Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Inception Kicks Audiences from Sleepy Season

To paraphrase a line from Christopher Nolan’s Inception, an idea is the most infectious thing in the world. Inception is the first imaginative, original idea to hit theaters this year. It is the sort of thing that will infect pop culture and be parodied and talked about for months. Ditch those Twilight boys. Blow off that bender of air. Lay down arms with those relentless Predators. Heck, even Toy Story 3, with all its poignant adolescent melancholy, suffers from familiarity by comparison. Inception is not a sequel, remake, or adaptation of some bestseller’s list series of novels or iconic TV show. It is an idea that is derived from nothing but Nolan’s brilliant mind.

In the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt recruit Ellen Page into a world of dream theft and carefully crafted ideas manifested as physical forms in the subconscious. While, as seasoned actors who started their careers during adolescence, they are also apparently guiding this relatively new actress, who’s transitioning into adulthood, into a world of creative and imaginative filmmaking. With this casting, Nolan seems to be making a statement about young Hollywood and who can be relied on to bring us first-rate characters or star in films with substance. We know Nolan to be very particular about his actors, only casting the side of young Hollywood with the utmost credibility, including Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scarlett Johansson. Even Katie Holmes from Batman Begins had more good movies than bad at that time.

Regardless, Inception is, to be sure, some sort of commentary on filmmaking that goes deeper than casting; it’s just up to interpretation what is being said. To paraphrase from the film again, to do this job you need to have a lot of imagination. You certainly don’t need imagination to make a financially successful movie, as evidenced by all the forgettable trifles that hit the top spot at the box office each week. Nolan’s work is among the few these days that is indispensable entertainment; they have lasting appeal because they are often creatively above and beyond the norm. In an age when Hollywood seems creatively bankrupt, Nolan is among the few with the richest ideas.

However, there are some critics with a coolly apprehensive view of Inception who feel it is too expository – that Nolan explains the rules of shared dreams too much. To complain about the exposition is to bite the hand that’s feeding you the best meal you’ve had all year. Without the exposition, which happens to avoid stalling the film, a movie like this would too easily unravel and lose coherence.

Inception is a heist movie and a tragic love story dressed up as a mind-bender. Not since The Matrix has a film blurred the lines between reality and imagination with such clear execution. This is a film that will overwhelm you in nearly every sense possible – visually, aurally, and intellectually. It is escapist entertainment at its most artistic; a popcorn movie for intelligent audiences - the only movie this summer worth the $8 ticket price. With The Dark Knight, Nolan created the best superhero film in history. With Inception, Nolan has created the best film of his career.

If only every filmmaker dreamed so big.


Should you see it? Buy tickets

Inception is now in theaters and IMAX.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Gibson Revue: A Movie Marathon

It's an idea that's been brought up to me time and time again.  I finally took it seriously.

If you're a regular reader of this movie blog then you probably enjoy movies about as much as I do.  It's time you, me, and those other two readers got together in one place.

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, join me for a day of movies, movie chatter, and food.

When:  Saturday, August 28th at 1:30p

Where:  My house (contact for details)

What:  Three movies, with brief discussions after each.  And food.

2p:  True Grit, starring John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn.  2hrs. 8mins.

4:30p:  Let The Right One In, the Swedish sensation that rocked the world.  2hrs.

7p:  Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenburg... and BM.  1hr. 21mins.

Please no kids. 

Try to contact me if you're planning to participate, so I can prepare for your presence (see what I did there?).

Predators: You'll Be Game for This Hunt

The Predator, that other alien that has become a thing of sci-fi and comic book cult geekdom over the years, has returned to theaters to reload its own franchise.  It’s been a staggering twenty years since the last Predator film.  Predator 2, starring Danny Glover as a cop who seems to go one desperately belligerent step further than those action junkies in Hot Fuzz, took what was great about its predecessor and cranked it up to moronic levels, resulting in the proper franchise’s dormancy (those Alien Vs. Predator films were a tangent – and not a very good one).

Predators brings us back to where it all began… sort of.

Like the Schwarzenegger 1987 original, this film takes place in the jungle and focuses on a unit of hard-hitters. Only this time they aren’t a tight-knit group of comrades and they aren’t in the jungles of South America. In Predators, directed by Nimrod Antal (Armored) and produced by Robert Rodriguez (Desperado), we are introduced to a group of wary, yet similar, strangers who meet incidentally while trying to get their bearings on very foreign terrain.

Of course, they soon come to realize they are on another planet, one that acts as a game preserve – and they are the game. These fish-out-of-water and stalking elements add more intensity to the situation than Schwarzenegger’s heavyweight brawl because we feel something may be watching the characters from the first and could suddenly attack at any moment.

The cast is locked and loaded with star power. Adrien Brody’s involvement in an action film should never again be deemed suspect. His roles in King Kong and Predators, as well as his con man in last year’s comedy The Brothers Bloom, his awkward ventriloquist in Dummy, and his star-making role in The Pianist proves Brody has considerable range as an actor. What Brody lacks in last-action-hero muscle, he more than makes up for with grizzled apathy and cunning in Predators. Brody is the anti-Arnold, both in build and disinterest in the safety of others. His character is much more than a trained killer; he can track, outwit, and become like his adversaries, making him a worthy prey for the hunter species… and a dangerous ally for those around him.

Rounding out the cast is Alice Braga (Repo Men), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), Topher Grace (In Good Company), and Danny Trejo (everything). M. Night Shyalaman has been touting The Last Airbender as the most racially diverse film ever, a movie where the lead characters were largely whitewashed.  Meanwhile, Predators features a cast of main characters that includes a Russian, an African American, a Latino, a Jew, and Caucasians. Also, the lead character is a minority and the most bad-ass Jew I’ve ever seen on screen.

Predators is a sequel that honors and enriches its subject. It also accomplishes nearly everything needed in a great sci-fi thriller: it is well-written with good dialogue, well-acted, and features good special effects (save for one explosion), great pacing (our characters don’t even encounter a Predator until at least 20 minutes into the film), higher intensity, and gorier kills. The ending isn’t solid and there are a couple nits that could be picked regarding our team’s logic, but all of that is forgivable considering everything else that is right on target. It may not be flawless, but we should be grateful that a movie of this kind is as good as this when too often these movies turn into bargain-bin schlock. It is the first proper sequel to the 1987 original and the most fun I’ve had at the theaters this summer (so far).


Should you see it? Buy tickets

Predators is in theaters now.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Eclipse Eludes Suck of the Summer Season

I am not a Twilight fan.

I can say that truthfully having suffered through over 1,300 pages of poorly-written, insufferable whining and self-absorbed melodrama that runs throughout the Twilight series. So abundant were my problems with the novels that I could not bring myself to finish the third entry, Eclipse.

There are those whose hate is so immense that the mere mention of Twilight is met with a hiss as though it were garlic or some religious relic (even if they’ve never read any of the books). I am not among them, although I can relate to some of their reasons.

While I may have finally shrugged off the novels, having opened myself to so much of the series I am unable to resist the curiosity of seeing how the films fare. I’ve watched each movie optimistically, hoping for someone to come along and make something decent out of the source.

Twilight was abbreviated fan-service that skimmed over the interesting parts of the novel; more a product than an actual film.

New Moon was only slightly better, yet laughable at times and still greatly melodramatic.

But with Eclipse, Twilight fans finally have something to howl at the moon about: a movie that ten years from now they won’t be embarrassed to admit enjoying.

Bella Swan is this close to graduating high school, at which point she and Edward plan to marry and run off to the hills of Alaska so she can be transformed into a vampire without the risk of family or any other humans becoming Newbie lunch. Eclipse isn’t about what happens after graduation (that’s saved for the two-part finale next year). This movie is concerned with those final weeks Bella has to change her mind and vote pro-life - hers that is. But while Bella is visiting her mom for the last time and talking with others about marriage or whether or not to be a blood-sucker, an army is growing in Seattle. Someone is painting the Emerald City red by building a legion of blood-thirsty new vampires. Meanwhile, Victoria, scorned lover of the ill-fated James in the first movie, is toying with the vampire Cullen family in Forks and the Quilette werewolf pack of the La Push Indian Reservation, running along their boundary lines while trying to find a weakness toward her target: Bella.

Director David Slade, of the dark, twisty thriller Hard Candy and the fiercely gory, yet mediocre 30 Days of Night, is the new hired hand here. Thankfully, he seemed to take material that he publicly ridiculed, trimmed out most of the melodrama, and made it something closer to what he might be interested in seeing. Slade’s Twilight has more horror elements than any other entry, good action and effects - and these vampires are no fey emo-hunks; they are tough and can kick ass.

This is, without doubt, the most exciting film in the Twilight film series so far.

But it still isn’t a great movie.

Eclipse features no less than three origin flashbacks, which work well in a novel, but kill the pacing of a movie. What’s worse is these interludes add nearly nothing essential to the movie and thereby waste twenty minutes of the film; they are clearly only included because they’re part of the book.

Kristen Stewart, who turned heads in Adventureland last year, clearly can’t figure out how to make Bella Swan interesting. She’s toned down the loathsome self-centeredness in the novel but unfortunately failed to replace that with any magic or personality (the vampires have more life in them); the result is a bland central character.

Also, not only does Eclipse steal what little mystery the novel had by introducing the vampire army too early, but it also has moments that lack logic or consistency. For example, there’s a snowstorm in June. It’s never dropped below thirty-five degrees in Clallam County at that time of the year. And why aren’t the vampires sparkling every time they’re in sunlight?

Having said all that, there is more to like in Eclipse than anything else this series has ever offered. The performances by Taylor Lautner and the vampire cast is strong, particularly for Jackson Rathbone, who’s finally asked to do more than stare in some way. Lautner’s Jacob may treat Bella’s choices with a desperation and urgency typically saved for those ‘end is nigh’ disaster films, but he is engaging and persuasive as the boy Bella has every reason to be with.

What’s more, a theme regarding maturity and identity creeps in by surprise, making the ‘will she/won’t she’ dilemma at the heart of the story something more than maudlin drivel. The action subplots also offer unexpected thrills and satisfying creature effects.

Eclipse may not be Twilight’s Azkaban, fully legitimizing the series and drawing newcomers to it, but David Slade has pulled together something decent and exciting. It isn’t a masterpiece, but Eclipse stands apart from those other films that are currently waiting in the darkness to suck their victims' wallets dry.


Should you see it? Buy tickets (fans) / Rent (open-minded non-fans)

Eclipse is out now in theaters.