Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception

The Takeaway: Great Googally Moogally! When I die, I'm gonna wake up and discover it was all a dream? And that could be another dream? And that could be another dream? And that could be a 7-year old boy making up a story to his best friend? Sweet! Well I should really plan a totally badass blastoff then. Who's up for a jump off the Empire State Building?

Format: IMAX

Christopher Nolan is a dreamer. He's an artist who paints with moving images, with theme, with story construction, with sound design, with pacing. He broke open the thriller flick with his destined-for-classic Memento, a simple, elegant, linear story shattered like the memories of its hero. He deconstructed the superhero flick and delivered a completely realistic almost crime drama with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And now he wows us with his latest - the 10 years in the making SciFi stunner, Inception.

The premise alone is genius. You can enter another person's dreams to steal vital pieces of information otherwise unattainable. But you can also do the opposite - you can place an idea in someone's mind, a tactic known as Inception. Some in Nolan's world claim this is impossible. After watching the film we are left to wonder whether or not it is. But more on that later.

Leo continues his hot streak. Seemingly he can do no wrong and he tackles the subtle complexities of his character, Cobb, with ease. His supporting cast is equally exceptional, proving Nolan has a gift for letting actors do what they must to convince us of these fantastic realities surrounding them.

Visually - Nolan crafts beautiful films, but this is his masterpiece. Some claim he's a modern Kubrick, but that's simply ridiculous. Nolan, while being both artist and master craftsman, doesn't have that final color in his palate to compete with Kubrick. In a Kubrick film, you can slice any frame out and hang it on the wall - it's a work of art. That's not to take away from Nolan; he's one of the most talented directors of this generation. But Kubrick stands alone.

Where Nolan excels is in tension. The second half of the film rockets off and I'll be damned if it didn't feel like it passed by in the blink of an eye - like a dream itself, from the outside of course. Inside a dream, that blink is an eternity; a fact cleverly exploited in the film. But there was so much tension in some points I was literally craning slowly forward during the builds and felt bad for whoever the dude was in front of me; surely I was impinging on his happy zone.

And back to whether or not Inception is possible. The beauty of the film is just that. Is it real? Is it possible? Where am I? And who? As layer after layer is peeled back, people will discover there is so much more to discuss. Before my son was born we held monthly movie nights and chose films that would easily lend themselves to a lengthy discussion. Our first film was Mulholland Drive, my personal favorite flick. That discussion twisted and turned like the film itself, and if memory serves (and we can never be too sure about that now can we, Mr. Nolan?) three hours had passed before the conclusion. Inception will fit nicely into this category as people go back into the film to unpack what they just saw, peel back the layers, and discover the emotional and existential truths that are hidden within.

What is a dream? A puzzle - your mind at work while you sleep - trying to come to conclusions about the world around you - your day - your life - your love...

If David Lynch is known for dreamlike cinema, so too will Christopher Nolan be in the years to come.

My rating is going to be lower than I suspect it to ultimately become as the years pass. I cannot deem a film a classic upon a single viewing. For now: Twilight Zone Marathon. But like, loaded with all the best episodes.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Iron Man

The Takeaway: Robert Downey Jr. is actually a superhero in real life too. He's known as Talk Too Fast Man.

Format: DVD

It's interesting that I would follow up Pirates of The Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl with Iron Man. It wasn't until today that I discovered my subconscious was directing me to actors. I say actors, because much like Depp in Pirates, Robert Downey Jr. hands down steals the show in Iron Man and turns what could easily have been a run of the mill superhero flick into one of the best of the genre along with Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, HellBoy, Spiderman, X-Men, and the original Superman.

That's not to say Favreau didn't have control over his flick. But it seems to me he was more about situations and letting his excellent cast goof off a bit to find their way. Downey took that freedom and created one of the most fascinating superheroes ever put onscreen. His Tony Stark exudes childlike glee when he's drinking and charming the chicks with his lightning tongue nearly as much (probably more) as when he's zipping through the air in his Iron Man suit. And to think they once had Tom-Tom in mind for the role. Yikes.

It's really impossible to not have a smile on your face while watching the film - what more can you ask for in a summer flick? Proves once again that just because it isn't the 80s - Summer Movies That Don't Suck can be produced. Ya just gotta have a writer, director, and cast with heart. Execs - pay attention: It's a director's medium - let them create... pretty please... with sugar on top?

Twilight Zone Marathon.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

The Takeaway: Rum makes everything better. Even being on a deserted island with Kiera Knightly.

Format: DVD

Johnny Depp has always been one of my favorite actors - all the way back to 21 Jumpstreet and Nightmare on Elm Street. But the man has really been slaying it in the last ten years or so. Beginning with his collaborations with Tim Burton, Depp has a way of embodying a role, making interesting choices, and delivering something another actor simply could not. And that is absolutely the case here. In what could have been a paint-by-the-numbers Disney pirate flick, Depp makes the boldest choice imaginable - play Captain Jack Sparrow like a drugged out rockstar who may or may not have 3 hot underage groupies draping from his arms. Not exactly usual Disney material - and it pays off big time.

The story is fairly engaging, but life blasts on screen every time Jack Sparrow slinks across it. Though I also loved the pirate skeletons. My only question is this: How come when the sun came up, Kiera Knightly's character still looked like a skeleton? Oh wait - she didn't have that curse.

Movie: Soft Serve Ice Cream @ 67th and B'way. Johnny Depp: Paris.

Friday, July 9, 2010

X-Files: Fight The Future

The Takeaway: Them damn jiffy pop poppers in the middle of the desert are way more dangerous than you could possibly imagine.

Format: Bluray

Season 5 came to a close and Fight The Future hit the theaters that summer. X-Files mania was in full swing. The mythology had yet to become completely muddled, confusing, and frankly - boring - as would be the case for the remainder of the series.

This was one of the best leaps to the silver screen I've ever seen. The scope of the regular series episodes had always been rather expansive for television, but Fight The Future really upped the ante both in visuals and in storytelling. The mythology deepened. The relationships of our main paranormal-fighting twosome expanded upon in a way fans had been hoping for since they were first brought together in the pilot episode of the series. And many of our favorite minor characters made crowd pleasing appearances.

What was most impressive though was how the film managed not only to please long time and casual fans of the series, but was constructed in a way that allowed someone who'd never seen the television show to go along for the ride in what turned into a great mystery adventure flick with some brains.

This bluray edition only enhanced the experience, definitely a MAJOR step up from the DVD, so fans shouldn't hesitate to pick it up and go where no man has gone before.

Oh - wait...

Twilight Zone Marathon

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Grease

The Takeaway: If you want to look really, really tough, your best bet is to sing and dance with FLAIR, baby! With flair. Also - you can totally change the girl you want into the girl you want her to be with a little effort. Not sure that's what the filmmakers wanted me to takeaway from the flick, but come on, let's be honest - you thought that too.

Format: Bluray

Let me just say this - god bless bluray. Anyone out there see the disgusting transfer of Grease on DVD? It was nearly unwatchable. So unwatchable, that I've never sat through it. After the first couple scenes you want question whether Paramount actually PAID to have it degraded and puked on by some film school dropout. Paramount treated their release of Grease on DVD like it was the monstrous, deformed, droopy eyed, evil twin brother (who has a tail!) your mother has always hid from you in the attic.

Then came the bluray - and God sent his angels down from high to sing and strum harps upon its arrival. Honestly - I don't know if Grease ever looked better. Even in the theaters. I mean - this picture is gorgeous and the sound - just downright amazing. I don't want this to turn into a bluray review - but seriously - if you love the flick and you have a bluray player - you MUST see it in this format.

Okay - enough of that. Embarrassing admission time. So I love Grease no matter how much a badass I pretend to be. And on the eve of entering High School, I decided to watch it again - probably for the hundredth time. On VHS! Anyhoo - I just thought I was the coolest cat in the crib. Grease gets ya in that kind of mood, even though all the supposed badasses onscreen SING and DANCE! So - the next morning arrives and I'm going to frickin' high school. And I dolled myself up in all black. Black jeans, black T. I was THE badass that was gonna rule the school, as Rizzo would put it. Until I realized - yeah - not a badass - I'm a freshman. It didn't end well for me that day, my friends. But my love for Grease lives on.

Paris.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy

The Takeaway: All right - so a wookie, a droid, and whiny little farm boy walk into a cantina...

Format: Laserdisc/DVD

Yes - you read correctly - Laserdisc. I watched part of the holy trilogy on Laserdisc. Do you know why I did this? A funny thing happened in a little boy named George's mind a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. He decided to make this cool flick - a tribute to the space operas and serials of years past. It took the world by storm and rightfully so. No one had ever seen anything like it before. It had us standing up in theaters and cheering, then standing in line and buying stuff. Lots of stuff. Action figures, bedsheets, lunch boxes, cereal, halloween masks, more action figures, comic books, novels, video games, candy, bandaids, and every conceivable form of product known to man. I'm sure there's a lightsaber inspired vibrator out there in the galaxy to battle the Rancor in every woman you meet.

This became truly the greatest saga ever put on screen. Then the funny thing happened. Like most artists, George wasn't happy with his finished product. The rest of the world was - at least until the wookie battle at the end of Jedi turned into the muppet show. But that's for another paragraph. Still - the world had spoken. Star Wars was a spectacle that needed no changes. Except, George changed it. Some minor changes, some enormous, inexcusable, character-changing changes. HAN SHOT FIRST, DAMMIT!

So the artist George carried on with his "adjustments" much to the chagrin of his loyal servants (us, the multiple times over paying public). Still, we flocked to the theaters as he unveiled his Special Editions of the timeless classics and it was like seeing Casablanca in color - it just didn't work. And then came the big slap across the face. The artist George blasted from high above - the Special Editions were it. This was the past, present, and future of Star Wars. There would be no Original Trilogy as we fondly remembered it. The Special Editions were what we were stuck with - unless one possessed the ancient art of the Laserdisc. On Laserdisc - you are permitted to see the films that captured your imagination in the highest possible quality - surpassing that of the lowly VHS or Beta copy you may have owned. But nowhere near to beautiful DVD quality that was to be the latest release of the Original Trilogy (with multiple nagging modifications aka: the Special Edition) Yes - if you wanted to see a clear, stunning picture and glorious 5.1 audio - you would only do so by watching Jabba the Hutt get his tail stepped on in a repetitive exposition-filled sequence.

The artist George did eventually release his untouched OT on DVD - in a non-anamorphic, crappy quality, virtually useless set. And thus we come full circle - I watched most of the OT this time on my prized Laserdiscs. I was booted from the theater a few times by my wife who had a startling desire to watch that damn dance reality program, during which I was forced to switch to the special edition dvds - hence "mostly" watched on Laserdisc.

The films - well ya sure as hell know the story. But ya don't know what it did to me as a child. I first saw Star Wars: A New Hope when I was 3 years old in the back seat of my folks' car at a drive-in movie theater. I don't remember much from that first experience, but I do remember Obi-Wan saying "Damn Fool" and then me saying to my parents that Obi Wan had just said a bad word. But it was the start of a relationship with Star Wars that would eventually lead to the rebel symbol being tattooed on my back. And it also began my life as a writer - eventually writer/director. No other film influenced me, as it did millions of others, in such a way as to literally change my life. I wanted to do that! I didn't even know what "that" was at the time. But I knew I wanted it.

The story is simple - it's the hero journey - it's about figuring out who you are in the world, and then going after what is most important to you. And that's why it was so powerful to all of us. It's why it's probably the greatest of all "Summer Movies That Don't Suck".

Despite what the artist George has decided over the years about his masterpiece - I will always love Star Wars - the one that I saw first as a wide-eyed 3-year old in the back of a car, the pictures gleaming down to me from that giant screen in the drive in theater, showing me what can be done; and then on into my adulthood as it continues to be a beacon - inspiring me to push forward with all my projects - to work til I bleed - continuing to create, and hopefully inspiring others along the way to carry on as well.

Live long and prosper. Oh wait...

Paris in Fall.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Paris Je T'aime

The Takeaway: Never make eye contact in the subway. You may end up kissing a girl with that thing on her bottom lip.

Format: DVD

The biggest surprise of the summer of 2007 for me (other than discovering that a very pregnant wife in the humidity of a Manhattan august will mean the husband is surely wrong no matter what he does. Black is not black. It's white, jackass. It could be green. Really, it's entirely up to her. It might even be the number 3) Again - biggest surprise other than that: this lovely flick - a collection of 18 short films each dealing with a different aspect of love in the city that will forever be known as the epicenter of that emotion - and rightfully so. Having been to, and completely fallen in love with Paris (with my decidedly unpregnant wife. In case you're wondering, black was then the letter A; no free rides, pal; pregnant or not) this collection was like going back for a stroll down the Seine with a bottle of wine and a fresh baguette from the local boulangerie.

When you have so many films in an anthology, surely not every one will take you by surprise and wrap its fingers around your heart - but here is an excellent collection with most of the films delivering the goods. Different styles, different points of view - all add up to one very decided thought - the filmmakers all love Paris. And after watching Paris Je T'aime - so will you.

Not surprisingly - it's Paris.