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1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Six Impossible Things I Can Believe About 'Alice in Wonderland', 8 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The purist in me wanted to hate the movie before it was even completed; but, when in Wonderland, you must be willing to let go of everything you know and embrace what you see. And so, as Alice herself did, I'll list the six impossible things I can believe.

The first is Alice herself. She's no longer a little girl, but a grown woman who needs to decide what direction to follow in life. The adventures of her childhood, she's now convinced, were simply dreams. Now, when the White Rabbit leads her down to Wonderland, it is no chance encounter. The narrative woven by Tim Burton is one of a chosen protector, a champion whose intervention will free the inhabitants of Wonderland from the dominion of a tyrant. That champion, of course, is Alice herself.

The tyrant is the Red Queen, who years ago usurped the crown from her sister, the White Queen. This is the second impossible thing. The character of the Red Queen is blended with that of the Queen of Hearts, as she often is. Originally, though, the Queen of Hearts was always the ruler of Wonderland, lording (or ladying?) over the other Suits (Diamonds, Clubs, and Spades). The Red and White Queens lived in Looking-Glass Land, and despite their chess battle, they were actually quite friendly with each other. That was the first thing that bothered me about this new movie when I learned about it. However, if you're going to have an epic battle, which this movie does, then you can either face the Queen of Hearts against the other Suits (which may or may not have been a good idea) or you can do what Tim Burton did. One thing you cannot do is have an 'Alice' movie without the Queen yelling "OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!"

The Jabberwock is number three (and yes, it's Jabberwock, not Jabberwocky). The fearsome dragon of Looking-Glass Land never quite made an appearance in the book, or most of the movies. However, it does make an appearance in this movie, as the Red Queen's resident beastie. It is the creature that Alice must slay if she is to end the Red Queen's reign of terror.

Some very unlikely characters help Alice in her quest. The Cheshire Cat, originally so enigmatic as to be entirely unhelpful, now is almost eager to put his very life on the line for Alice, the White Queen, and even the Hatter himself. Still an enigma, and still charmingly puzzling, he is another indispensable character, wonderfully played by British character actor Stephen Fry.

If the Cheshire Cat is one example of an unlikely character coming to the rescue, then the Hatter is an even better one. Still mad, and still drinking tea with his friends the March Hare and Dormouse when Alice finds him, the Hatter is perhaps the one resident of Wonderland who has been most affected by the Red Queen's rule. His desire to see the "bloody bighead" fall prompts him to risk his life for Alice time and again, even though he is one of the few in Wonderland who actually believes she is the intended champion. "I'd know you anywhere," he declares, helping her escape capture at the hands of Stayne, the infamous Knave of Hearts, played by Crispin Glover.

The sixth impossible thing is how much I actually liked this movie. Despite the changes made, the end product is quite a good story. Several characters from the books and previous movies didn't quite make the cut, of course. One character I would have really liked to see would have been the White Knight from Looking-Glass Land, who was Alice's escort for part of her journey and would have been more believable in the role filled by the Mad Hatter. I also would've liked the angle I proposed earlier, with the Red Queen appearing completely as the Queen of Hearts and facing Suits rather than the White Army in the end. It would have made more sense to me.

But this is Wonderland; a world of adventure, not logic; of madness, not sanity; of childlike wonder, not cynical criticism. Some say this movie lacked heart; I say the heart is where this movie's strength truly rested. I came close to walking into the movie with my mind made-up, having already decided what it had done "wrong" and how it "should" be. In that sense, I was a little like Alice, falling into a world she had visited before, facing a host of changes, firmly convinced that she would wake up at any moment to what she "knew" was right. I decided not to be that way; not to lose, in the words of the Hatter, my "muchness".

So, if you want to be like Alice, constantly trying to make sense of the madness in this movie, then that's up to you; but I recommend, instead of falling into the rabbithole, you jump in with both feet.

(read the original review at:

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
All the tropes of a war movie and an alien invasion movie, 11 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Battle: Los Angeles" is the latest addition to one of the oldest stories in science fiction: the alien invasion story. While most movies tend to treat alien invasion movies as disaster films, like "Independence Day", or survivalist films, like "War of the Worlds", "Battle: Los Angeles" treats alien invasions like actual invasions; that is to say, it's a war movie. This is both a good and a bad thing.

It's good because, hey, if you're going for "realism", which all movies seem to want to do these days, there's no other way to handle an alien invasion. You break out the military in full force, and you focus on the fighting. Maybe, if you want to appease the sci-fi fans as well as the average moviegoer, you include some discoveries and theories about the aliens, which "Battle" does. It has a good premise: a worldwide war that focuses on one battle so that it doesn't knock itself, or the viewers, out trying to cover the entire invasion of Earth. It focuses on the marines and their efforts to evacuate civilians from the combat zone while only occasionally touching on the aliens and their technology/motives so as not to … um … alienate the general audience.

It's also bad, because, while working in the obvious tropes about alien invasion, such as the superior technology, extraterrestrial biology, and overwhelming military force, it also works in quite a few war movie tropes at the same time. There's Aaron Eckhart's ("The Dark Knight", "Paycheck") character, Staff Sergeant Nantz, who's retiring from the Marines the very morning of the invasion. Ramon Rodriguez ("Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen") plays the young lieutenant fresh out of officer training who, despite outranking the older sergeant, still needs Nantz's guidance in leading the men (oh, and his wife's pregnant). There's even Noel Fisher, who's starring in the upcoming "Twilight: Breaking Dawn", playing a very young private who is constantly freaked out by everything that happens.

It's not that they play these roles poorly; it's just that this movie doesn't really have anything new to offer. It's refreshing to see an alien movie that doesn't exploit an incredibly lame weakness (minor spoiler: they do need to exploit a weakness); but every trope, from both types of movie, teeters on the edge of being a cliché. And there are only so many clichés you can take in one movie, especially a "serious" one.

I liked the movie; didn't love it, but I liked it. Aaron Eckhart almost never disappoints, and he did a good job in this movie. The interspersed moments of exposition, such as "experts" on TV discussing the aliens' actions, weren't the best, but they did make it a bit more believable. And there were some genuinely touching moments with the civilians they were sent to rescue. In the end, it goes for the trope, not the cliché, and it generally hits the mark.

(Originally appeared at

Battleship (2012)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Battleship: Unsinkable, 21 May 2012

Okay, so the box office numbers haven't generally been that … explosive, shall we say. That's more due to The Avengers totally dominating theaters, though. This movie, based very loosely on the Hasbro game of the same name, is actually a really enjoyable film; once the alien invasion starts, that is.

Battleship is actually one of the best alien invasion movies I've seen; and you know how critical I can be of alien invasion movies. It exploits a weakness, of course, but not an unreasonable one like a sensitivity to water (which is good, because most of the action takes place in the Pacific Ocean). It requires a diverse group of humans to band together, which is arranged by staging an international war games exercise on the day the invasion begins (bit of a coincidence, but the sailors from different countries do make a great team). And it has Liam Neeson; not very much of him, but hey, it's Liam Neeson.

On the other hand, it also has Taylor Kitsch (John Carter). Kitsch's character is Lieutenant Hopper, whose attitude problem has grown so large that he's facing a discharge from the Navy once the war games have ended. His older brother, played by Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood), is commander of one of the other ships. He's been looking out for him all his life, but can't make him grow up. And one of the Japanese captains, played by Tadanobu Asano (Thor) goes from fistfighting Hopper to fighting alongside him. Oh, and supersinger Rihanna is also in the film.

The characters are all pretty cookie-cutter, but like I said, once the invasion starts, it gets really good. They don't bother trying to impress people by spending a lot of time on the aliens' biology or weapons technology, focusing instead on strategy. They don't give the aliens a massive advantage (not too much of one, anyway), showing from the beginning that even aliens can have a crash landing. The communications ship is disabled, which means they have to take over human communications satellites to reach the rest of their species. So, the humans have a simple, if not particularly easy, task: knock out their own satellites as well as the remaining alien ships.

The aliens still have the advantage, though. Their weapons are still superior to ours (some of their artillery actually resembles the pegs from the old Hasbro game), and they quickly demolish any warships that engage them. Hopper and company, though, manage to limp their way to Hawai'i, where the last battleship in the Navy awaits them. The "Mighty Mo", the USS Missouri, where Japan surrendered as the final act of World War II, which fought in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, which has been essentially a floating museum for decades, finds itself brought out of retirement for one last fight. It sounds cheesy, maybe even a little jingoistic, but you rarely see an alien invasion movie that doesn't have some ultra-patriotic scene. In Battle: Los Angeles, it's the U.S. Marines going straight into battle. Independence Day, of course, has the big battle on the Fourth of July. Battleship, however, doesn't feel cheesy at all when you see veterans returning to their posts and the Mighty Mo taking to the sea. Perhaps foreign audiences won't feel the same swell of pride that Americans do, but purely as an action sequence, watching it sail into battle is still thrilling.

Do the aliens sink their battleship? You don't expect me to give away the ending, do you? Go see the film. The "human interest" parts may not be Shakespeare, exactly, but the "human versus alien" parts will blow you out of the water.

(original review posted at )

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Old vs. New, 2 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The comment I've heard/read most often is people expect the new movie to be all special effects and no real plot. That's funny to me; and not funny "ha ha". In my own humble opinion, the same criticism could very well apply to the original movie.

That's not to suggest the first "Clash" lacked a plot. It featured a hero, the classic Greek hero Perseus, the mortal son of Zeus. Perseus embarks on a quest to save the princess Andromeda and her home city from a sea monster. Along his way, he faces gigantic scorpions, a trio of hideous witches, a rejected beast of a man named Calibos, and the cursed creature Medusa. It's an interesting enough plot, and one that the new movie emulates to a degree; but the pacing of the original movie and the unfolding of the plot were both rather ... haphazard.

Perseus' presence in the city is the doing of the sea goddess Thetis. Jealous of the fact that Zeus' son is blessed with everything her son Calibos is not, Thetis transports Perseus to the city, where he learns of Calibos' efforts to ruin Andromeda's happiness. When Perseus intervenes and frees Andromeda of the deformed man's influence, and when Andromeda's mother Cassiopeia suggests that her daughter is more beautiful than any goddess, Thetis places a curse on the city which can only be lifted if Andromeda is sacrificed to the dreaded Kraken.

There's nothing wrong with a hero rescuing cities, slaying monsters, and marrying princesses; in fact, it's kind of the entire job description. On the other hand, Harry Hamlin, who plays Perseus in the 1981 version, goes from scene to scene with all the intensity of a teenager on a scavenger hunt. Sam Worthington adds something Hamlin's Perseus was lacking: motivation. Worthington's Perseus didn't arrive in Andromeda's city by chance; his adopted family were caught in the crossfire of a rebellion between Men and Gods, and only his own divine heritage kept him from dying with them. His quest is fueled by a desire to avenge their deaths on the God Hades, who stole their lives and (in this version) called for Andromeda's sacrifice.

Perseus had good reason to hate the gods, or at least be suspicious of them. His love of his adopted family and grief over their deaths at the hands of a god led him to reject any connection to the gods, even his father Zeus. Played in the 2010 version by Liam Neeson, Zeus is sympathetic to the plight of humanity. However, his anger at the rebellion, which culminated in a group of soldiers tumbling his statue into the sea, led him to allow his brother Hades to remind mankind "of the order of things". He does try to help his son on his quest, though. There are overtones of an almost Christian relationship between Zeus, Perseus, and humanity at large in this remake.

A few of the more obvious differences between the original and the remake include Perseus' companions. Originally, most of the soldiers who accompanied him had neither names nor much character development. Now, Perseus follows the soldiers, rather than leading them. They all have names, backgrounds, and their own personal feelings about a "demi-god" joining them in their efforts to save their home.

Another character who is "between" Men and Gods is the immortal Io, played by lovely British actress Gemma Arterton. Cursed to stay young while those she loves grow old and die, her extended lifetime of acquired wisdom and knowledge makes her an invaluable guide for Perseus. She fills two roles: the wise mentor, originally filled by Ammon, played by film legend Burgess Meredith; and the love interest, originally filled by Princess Andromeda.

That second revision came as somewhat of a relief to me. Perseus had hardly any time (or reason) to become as heavily invested in Andromeda as he did in the first movie. When you save someone's life, it's expected that a bond will form between you; but for Hamlin's Perseus, it was apparently love at first sight. I'm romantic enough to let that slide (usually), but Worthington's on screen romance with Arterton was much more believable.

Now, let's tackle the "purist" objections. It's my position, in the case of sequels at least, you should adhere to the source material as closely as possible. Remakes, however, are supposed to stray (within reason). Did Perseus and Io have a relationship in the previous movie? No. On the other hand, Perseus didn't ride Pegasus, the winged horse, in the original Greek myth, as he did in both movies; he wore winged shoes given to him by the gods. The thrilling line "Release the Kraken!", delivered by Zeus in both movies, was never uttered by classical Zeus, simply because the Kraken wasn't a creature from Greek myth. Was Hades ever an actual villain, as he is so often portrayed in film? No; he was simply the God of the Underworld, a position he was never "tricked" into accepting.

It's called artistic license. If remakes were supposed to be "faithful", then we wouldn't need them, would we? We'd just watch the original again, which I did before watching this one. With all due respect to Ray Harryhausen, I prefer the remade "Clash of the Titans". Director Louis Leterrier did a fine job diagnosing what worked from the original film and what didn't, cutting scenes here and amending them there. What he ultimately produced may fit the label of a "rock 'n roll epic", but it also fits the label of a "classic epic", one with a believable hero, courageous companions, and pulse-pounding adventure. More than just an action flick, it is a portrait of one man's journey to discover his true heritage.

(read the original review here: )

Devil (2010)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
You can't call it M. Night's return to greatness (because it's not his movie)., 18 September 2010

"Devil" opened in theaters this weekend. It's the first in a trilogy of horror movies "from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan". But it's not M. Night's movie.

Perhaps conscious of the "M. Night Curse" (that sense that each of his movies is worse than the previous one), Shyamalan has decided to cede control of the Night Chronicles trilogy to others. He conceived the stories himself and acts as producer, but the tasks of writing the screenplays and directing the movies belong to others. In the case of "Devil", he turns to horror screenwriter Brian Nelson ("30 Days of Night") and brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle ("Quarantine") to direct.

Five strangers, unconnected to each other, just happen to end up in the same malfunctioning elevator at the same time. Or do they? As the story goes, the Devil is not always content to wait until souls arrive in Hell to punish them for their sins. Sometimes, he assumes human form to torment them right here on Earth. So we're left wondering, which of them is the Devil? And what did they do to deserve this? The story doesn't just take place in the elevator, though. A police detective, brought there to investigate while the building workers struggle to free the captives, has some (figurative) demons in his own past. Though his faith has been shaken, he is forced to consider that there are more things in Heaven, Earth, and even Hell than he would like to believe.

You can tell, almost from beginning and certainly to the end that this is not a typical "M. Night" film. His particular brand of "twist" is missing from this movie (though there is a twist or two near the end). Nor is it a typical horror film. The horror elements are there, including the eponymous Devil, but only insofar as they advance the storyline. I would categorize it as more of a locked room mystery, to be honest; though, of course, when one of the occupants of the "room" is the Devil, you can't take anything for granted.

I would also call it a good movie. Not a great one, necessarily, but not as bad as some other titles Shyamalan has provided over the last few years. It's hard to say just how much influence he had over the movie itself, though the Dowdle brothers were certainly glad to have his name attached to it. All publicity is good publicity, as they say. Does it break the M. Night Curse? Perhaps not; but it's a good movie, all the same. I can now say that I eagerly await the next installment in the trilogy.

(You can read the original review here: )

5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
It's too bad Mystery Science Theater: 3000 is off the air, 20 September 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

dee.reid is far too generous in his review of this movie. Allow me to offer a more blunt assessment: it was terrible! In recent years, I've never seen a movie that was so bad that wasn't trying to be. I've seen other movies that were as bad or worse, but usually as fodder for the cast of MST: 3k, a crew consisting of one captive man and two captive robots forced to endure the most hideous B-movies in Sci-fi/fantasy history. The trio survive only by slinging wisecracks and insults in a no-holds-barred attack on the movies in question.

I felt myself irresistibly compelled to do the same while watching Dragon Wars. The actors, including the leading men and woman, seemed to reel from scene to scene, unsure even of what to feel or why they made the decisions they did. I confess, I was similarly confused. For example, one scene involves sending the lead characters, Ethan and Sarah, to the top of an L.A. skyscraper so they can board a helicopter to escape the evil dragon. Once they are in the helicopter, the dragon reaches the top of the building and destroys the helicopter. The pair make it out alive and are then forced to return to the street below. This could conceivably happen when running from a dragon, but the entire sequence is absurd from a movie-making standpoint. For all of the money and effort spent producing the sequence, the characters achieved nothing more than ending up right where they started before they entered the building.

This sort of wasteful use of resources betrays the director's lack of experience. The dialogue, all of it, betrays his lack of writing experience. As much money as he must have spent on the movie, he should have worked smarter, not harder. Hiring a script doctor would have been a good start; a dialogue coach and an experienced co-director could have nicely rounded out a badly needed consulting team. And while I may not appreciate Korean culture, history, or mythology the way I should, this man did not make a Korean movie; he made an American movie. And as an American movie-goer, I feel particularly qualified to make this statement: "That is the worst six bucks I've ever spent on a movie."

26 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
No Groucho? No problem, 30 April 2011

Okay, so the movie isn't set in London. So there is no Inspector Bloch, Dr. Xabaras, or Groucho Marx. So the zombies are more Shaun of the Dead than Dawn of the Dead. It's still a good movie.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night stars Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as the eponymous "nightmare investigator", with Sam Huntington (Being Human) as his undead sidekick, Marcus. When the movie begins, Dylan has retired from keeping tabs on the paranormal beings that walk among us (and they walk all among us), and has settled into a more conventional private detective gig. One day, though, a potential client named Elizabeth (Anita Briem, Journey to the Center of the Earth) tries to hire Dylan to solve the death of her father. He refuses, until he returns to his office that night to discover Marcus has also been killed. The two slayings are just the beginning, as Dylan, his now zombified assistant, and Elizabeth crisscross New Orleans in search of the monsters responsible.

Now, readers of the Italian comic books on which the film is based have blasted the movie for its "unfaithfulness" to the original works by Tiziano Sclavi. While it would have been nice to see Brandon Routh playing the clarinet once or twice, the realities of movie-making must intrude at some point. A low budget, for example, means not being able to film in London, where the comics are set. The American city of New Orleans probably comes closest in old school creepiness, though (apologies to the people of New Orleans; and of London, I guess). The same goes for Groucho Marx, the black-and-white era comedian on whom the comics' Dylan's assistant is based and whose likeness is very expensive to use in the States. While they show pictures of people in Groucho glasses and posters for Marx Brothers movies, the cost for securing the rights to have an imitator was likely quite high. Even the American adaptation of the comics had to "shave" Groucho's mustache and change his name to Felix for similar reasons. Sam Huntington more than fills the role of "comedy sidekick", though, as he struggles to adjust to the fact that he's dead; and he and Routh have excellent chemistry due to their time working together on Superman Returns.

Anita Briem's character seems like a bit of a misfire at times, but she certainly follows the path of most female characters in the comics. Often, Dylan Dog finds himself taking the case of an attractive young woman who has lost a loved one (or several) and needs his help coming to grips with the supernatural world into which she's been thrust. And while the supernatural world of the movie differs noticeably from that of the comics, the atmosphere it presents is almost instantly recognizable. The walk they take through the streets at night as Dylan tries to open her eyes to the presence of the undead as they literally pass in front of her eyes would not have seemed out of place on Sclavi's pages, I feel. Sure, the monsters themselves are different, but again, you've gotta give American moviegoers a bone every now and then, show them something they'll recognize, as well.

And then there's Dylan himself. Brandon Routh is a fine actor; I don't think anyone can deny that. He works very well with what he's given, and in this case, he did an excellent job as Dylan Dog. The movie character shared much in common with the comics character: mistrust of technology (the comics Dylan refuses to use a cell phone, the movie Dylan still uses cameras with film in them); a deep, brooding disinterest in the world at large; drives the same VW Bug, even though the colors have been inverted; and, though some may disagree, he even looks a lot like the Dylan from the comics. Dylan is an old school private investigator, whether he's investigating the living, the dead, or the undead. In the movies, though, he's given an additional role: keeping the creatures of the supernatural world from getting out of line. A pact was formed, presumably to protect the "monsters" from being wiped out entirely by humanity, and as part of that pact, a human was chosen to sort of police the undead; to keep them in check, so to speak. In our day, that's Dylan; or, at least it was until he "retired".

That last part is probably the biggest difference between the comic books and the movie. It turns the character from a sort of Philip Marlowe of the undead world into another version of Keanu Reeve's John Constantine, another movie character who wasn't that closely based on his graphic novel counterpart; and it is probably the part of the movie about which fans of the Dylan Dog comics will be the least forgiving. I'm enough of a purist myself to agree that the movie should have done more to adhere to the source material. That being said, I liked the movie a lot. I think they did a fine job with not that much in the way of resources, and they created a very believable "underground" world that could very well coexist with our own. Brandon Routh has always been a favorite actor of mine, and even if this is the latest in a string of underrated movies in which he starred, he and Sam Huntington did a great job in it.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A Courageous Effort, 21 June 2011

We're all a little spoiled with our movie-going experiences these days, I feel. Even without the CGI (which was spectacular) and the cast (which had several fan favorites, both as characters and the actors portraying them), this movie would have been a serious contender not ten years ago. We've had a glut of superhero movies in the last decade, some phenomenally good (The Dark Knight, Iron Man) and some phenomenally bad (Catwoman, X-Men 3: The Last Stand). We've adopted a sort of attitude that a superhero movie isn't "good" unless it's "great". Sure, we can say to ourselves and each other that we never expected it to be on par with Christopher Nolan's films, but that's exactly what we wanted it to be. And that's exactly what it didn't need to be.

GL tells the story of a cocky test pilot, Hal Jordan, who manages to disappoint several people close to him by crashing his plane during a test. Despite this apparent failure on his part, the risks he was willing to take during the test demonstrate the sort of indomitable will Hal possesses that makes him worthy to enter the Green Lantern Corps.

Hal is the first human being to ever be chosen for the Corps. We're a "young" species, unaware of any life beyond our own planet, and rather arrogant, besides. That makes some of its more prominent members, Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan) and Sinestro (Mark Strong), doubtful that Hal can fulfill his duties; especially since the Lantern he replaced was Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), their greatest warrior. In the face of their skepticism and even hostility towards him, even Hal begins to doubt that he belongs.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Abin Sur's dead body has been recovered by the government. Killed and infected by the dreaded being Parallax, he is examined by scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), who also becomes infected and begins to exhibit strange powers of his own as a result. Jordan and Hammond are seemingly polar opposites: one so self-assured and charismatic that he can do anything he wants, and the other so brilliant and yet so timid that all he can do is dream of what he wants. It's a dynamic that sounds cliché, but that fits easily into the storyline and their eventual confrontation. The problem is the movie doesn't spend enough time building their chemistry and relationship on screen.

Actually, the movie doesn't have much time to spend on anything. It's only an hour and forty-five minutes, which, given how much ground (and space) they need to cover, is not enough. It needed to be at least twenty minutes longer, not just to give the characters more time to develop, but also to smooth out some very awkward segues between scenes.

Not that everything about the movie was awkward or rushed. I actually think they did a good job with Carol Ferris' (Blake Lively) relationship with Hal throughout the movie. They establish their childhood friendship, their past as lovers, and their current balancing act as best friends and pseudo-employer/employee. She's positioned to take over her father's company, so she needs to put her foot down about Hal's seemingly careless attitude sometimes; but she still helps him realize the difference between being fearless and being able to overcome fear; which is the one lesson he needs to learn if he is ever to live up to the responsibility entrusted to him with and by the power ring. The only real misfire with her character, again, was with her relationship with Hector Hammond. It's another aspect of their particular triangle that could have worked, if only they'd been given more time.

More time is exactly what this franchise needs. It laid a significant amount of groundwork for a trilogy, especially with the character of Sinestro and his ruthless pursuit of what he considers to be the right path to justice. It gave Hal Jordan an opportunity to grow from willful to full of will. It was sort of the Iron Man 2 of the franchise (if, indeed, it becomes a franchise): more setup for what's ahead than establishment of what is; more flash than substance, though it certainly did not lack for substance. DC and WB should not be afraid to follow up with a sequel or even a full trilogy; because, as Hal reminds us in the movie, "once you give in to fear, you can never go back". They want to branch out from Superman and Batman? They want to compete with the Avengers and Marvel's full slate of superhero movies, both planned and current? Then they need to give Green Lantern time to grow into his role. They need to take another chance, another risk, as they did when they made this one in the first place. Now is the time to give the franchise the support it needs. Just making this movie was a courageous effort; it will take even more courage to move forward from here.

(originally appeared at

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Not A Children's Story, 19 November 2010

Earlier this week, I reread "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to refresh my memory before seeing the movie. A woman who sat next to me in the bookstore café asked a few questions about the book, noting, among other things, what a remarkable phenomenon the series had become. I offered my opinion that the author, J.K. Rowling, could hardly have predicted the immense success of her creation; that, when she started writing, her only objective was to write a children's story, and that is how you must always view the books, no matter how dark they become. However, the movies are certainly not bound by that.

At its heart, the Harry Potter books are and will always be children's books. The characters, unlike the fully-fleshed out characters in more "adult" series, tend to be more elemental. I wouldn't call them two-dimensional, but every character represents something in the series. Voldemort is the purest evil, while Ron and Hermione are Harry's loyal companions. Harry, of course, is our fearless hero, and Dumbledore is the ever-present mentor and guardian. That is, until we reach Book Seven. Everything about Harry's life and beliefs is challenged in this chapter of the series. His relationship with Dumbledore, who died at the end of Book Six and can no longer guide or protect him, is brought into question as new information about the old wizard's life surfaces after his death. As Harry seeks the means to destroy Voldemort, he becomes increasingly aware that Dumbledore left him with precious fews clues on how to do so.

At his side, of course, are Ron and Hermione who refuse to let him travel alone when half the wizarding world is looking for him, for one reason or another. After six years of friendship and shared danger, their trust in Harry hardly needs explanation. However, as the enormity of the task becomes ever more clear to them, dissension eats away at that trust, and the fact that they're all merely teenagers, albeit magicians, makes the mission that much more difficult. So much has been sacrificed on everyone's part, including family, that Harry is reluctant to ask or even accept any more sacrifices; and yet, even more will be required of all of them before the tale is complete.

I've always preferred the movies to the books. As compelling as Rowling's writing is, it is still intended primarily for children, and it shows. I don't mean that in a derogatory way; but elemental characters such as the brainy Hermione, the bumbling Hagrid, and the loony Luna need more to make them truly enjoyable. At times, they do break out of their "roles", and that is when they truly shine. Rowling does her best to give the readers a window into the characters' souls, to feel the weight of the burdens they carry. She certainly pulls no punches with Harry, barely allowing him a moment of triumph or celebration before adding another tragedy or burden to his lot.

The movies, on the other hand, add a bit more realism to the struggle. It's not just the "picture says a thousand words" element. It's the little touches, the slight changes in dialogue from page to screen, that make the characters less elemental and more human. The pruning of a scene or editing of exposition here and there eases the rhythm and allows the viewer to go with the flow. The soundtrack itself does a fantastic job of bringing the story to life (keep your ears open for Nick Cave's "O Children", which adds a particular bittersweetness to one compelling scene).

There is so much that changes in this seventh installment that, after a few early scenes have ended, you can hardly recognize the series. There are familiar faces, of course, and the main element remains: the fact that Harry Potter must defeat Lord Voldemort himself or die trying. This is only the first part of Book Seven, of course; the second half will wait until next summer. Expect everything to change again.

(Originally appeared as "Not A Children's Story" at )

Inception (2010)
19 out of 38 people found the following review useful:
Two Words To Describe "Inception", 16 July 2010

Christopher Nolan, the visionary director behind "Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight", and "Memento", has finally brought to life his project of more than twenty years. Featuring a cast of some of the world's greatest stars, both young and old, and having been filmed in locations in six different countries, "Inception", in the words of the L.A. Times, "blends the best of traditional and modern film-making".

Leonardo DiCaprio headlines as Cobb, a con man who specializes in stealing people's secrets from within their very minds. Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("3rd Rock from the Sun") gives a remarkable performance as his partner in crime. Tom Hardy ("Star Trek: Nemesis"), Dileep Rao ("Avatar"), and Ellen Page ("Juno") round out a team of highly talented "intrusion experts". They are hired by Ken Watanabe ("The Last Samurai") to do the impossible: rather than steal an idea from their target's (Cillian Murphy, "28 Days Later ...") mind, they are to plant an idea through a process called "inception".

There are many words to describe this movie. "Crime drama", "sci-fi thriller", "international intrigue", and "mind-bending masterpiece" all would certainly be on the list. Nolan keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very last second, barely giving you time to breathe as you try to peel the layers and decide what is real and what is illusion. There are many questions to answer as you follow the characters ever deeper into the world of dreams. The greatest questions, however, surround Cobb himself and his motives.

Cobb is not your typical thief taking on "one last job". While his partner believes Cobb is just hoping to complete the job so he can see his children again, Page's character begins to suspect that he is seeking something more. She soon learns that Cobb is haunted by the memory of his dead wife, played by Marion Cotillard ("Public Enemies"), who does far more than simply distract him from his duties. After all, in the world of the subconscious, even the smallest distraction can take you in directions you never expected to go.

Like the layers of the dream worlds the team constructs for their marks, this movie is crafted to convey one story; one single point that comes delivered wrapped in marvelous visual effects, pulse-pounding action sequences, intelligent dialogue, and even a fair amount of humor. That single point, the two words I would use to describe this movie, is "love story". The great mystery of "Inception" is the story of Cobb and his family, his wife and children, what he has done to them, and how far he will go to recover them. While most reviewers may focus on the spectacular special effects or the unique storytelling elements, I believe the central theme of "Inception" is the unraveling of Cobb's character. Everything else is a vehicle for this storyline.

As a writer, I think this is one of the finest examples of good storytelling I've seen. As a moviegoer, I can't think of a better way to spend my money. I would recommend "Inception" to anyone, be they seeking an action movie, an art film, a mystery thriller, or a science-fiction wonder ride. For me, it is all those things and more; but at its heart, it is a poignant love story.

(Read original review here:

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