Saturday, August 6, 2011


Year 3, Day 218 - 8/6/11 - Movie #939

BEFORE: OK, so I've REALLY been looking forward to this one - I've been building up to it all week long. And linking's a snap since Dakota Fanning from "Push" was also in "Hide and Seek" with Robert De Niro, who was in "This Boy's Life" with Leonardo DiCaprio (last seen in "The Aviator").

THE PLOT: In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption which involves executing his toughest job to date.

AFTER: This film blew me away, visually and mentally, but also sort of burned me out. This film is (overly?) long at about two and a half hours, and with all the technical details about the dreamspace, that adds up to a LOT to take in. Plus I had to go into the city and work for a few hours today, typing up/editing a book, which is mentally draining also - so I'd like to write just a little bit, not the huge essay that this film probably deserves.

Like "Push", which featured different classes of people with psychic powers (Sniffs, bleeders, pushers), this film shows a team of specialists, each with a different job, who work together to enter a shared dream-space (though it apparently is just one person's dream, one of many contradictions in the film). To do this (nearly?) impossible task, the team needs to have an architect, a chemist, a forger, etc. - and I assume each person plays a vital role, even if I didn't quite understand what each one is.

The goal here is to have the team enter a businessman's dream, and through the power of suggestion and some role-playing, plant an idea which he will then believe to be his own. And this idea would have multi-million dollar consequences for his competitor (seen as the victim of the film's opening gambit, but he turns around and hires the team for his own job).

DiCaprio selects the team and leads the team, but he's a man with secrets in his past, and a man who's spent too much time living in the dream-world himself - time passes more quickly in the dreamworld, apparently - to the point where the team might actually be in danger from the characters in his subconscious spilling over into their mark's dreams.

To me, dreams are a place where just about anything can happen, and I would have imagined that the film would take advantage of this fact, and it does - but it also bogs down the dream-space with a hundred or so "rules" about what can be done and what can't be done, which is maddening since all of this is theoretical or impossible anyway. Why hogtie the fantasy world with a bunch of negativity, man? And why make everything about ten times as complicated as it needs to be?

Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of cool stuff here, not only the visual effects but the concepts, too. A dream within a dream? How about a dream within a dream within a dream? Who knew that when you're in a dream you could go to sleep and end up in another person's dream? We all "know" that if you die in your dream, you wake up (wait, or is it that you die?) but what happens if you die in your dream within another dream? That's just the START of where this film starts to mess with your head.

Audiences probably would have been satisfied with seeing the team go to one dreamworld, but no, the film takes you three levels down. And time moves differently the further in they go. And then there's limbo, don't get me started about limbo...

I'm a huge fan of director Christopher Nolan's other work, not just the Batman films, but also "Memento" and "The Prestige" - so even though there were things about this film that confused me, I should probably not start to criticize until I've seen it at least one more time.

I will say that I don't recommend dozing off during this one - not only will you wake up and not know what the frick is going on, there's the chance that you'll get sucked into someone else's dream.

After all, what is a movie, but a shared dream? It takes a team of specialized people to put it together, a director, producer, art director, cameraman, etc. and of course you can have a movie-within-a-movie - so maybe this film is all some kind of allegory for the filmmaking process?

Also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "A River Runs Through It"), Ellen Page (last seen way back in "Juno"), Ken Watanabe (last seen in "The Last Samurai"), Tom Hardy (last seen in "Black Hawk Down"), Cillian Murphy (last seen in "The Dark Knight"), Marion Cotillard (last seen in "Public Enemies"), Tom Berenger (last seen in "Born on the Fourth of July"), Pete Postelthwaite (last seen in "Clash of the Titans"), Michael Caine (last seen in "The Cider House Rules"), Lukas Haas (last seen in "The Darwin Awards").

RATING: 7 out of 10 blueprints

EDIT: I came to work Monday and mentioned I had finally seen this film, and learned that the office (staffed by film people) was split down the middle on "Inception". Some regarded it as a stunning, complex masterpiece, and some as a self-indulgent, confusing nightmare. So which is it? Maybe it's both? I can sort of make a case for either argument...

Friday, August 5, 2011


Year 3, Day 217 - 8/5/11 - Movie #938

BEFORE: Like "Jumper", this is a film about people with super-human abilities coming in conflict with government agents - which has sort of been the theme this whole week. And we link from Samuel L. Jackson to Chris Evans (last seen in "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer") through the "Captain America" movie that's in theaters now.

THE PLOT: Two young Americans with special abilities must race to find a girl in Hong Kong before a shadowy government organization called Division does.

AFTER: I had high hopes for this one - put a few people with different psychic abilities together, and you could be just a few uniforms shy of an "X-Men" movie, or perhaps something like the "Heroes" TV show. And with a young girl who can see the future, the storyline has the potential to match the work Peter David's currently writing for "X-Factor". I seem to recall a similar storyline in "X-Men" comics a few years ago, with a drug that enhanced mutant super-powers.

But although this may make for a great comic-book, or a killer video-game, I'm not sure it makes for a great film. I found it way too confusing, to the point of frustration. The problems started when the two opposing sides (one is that old standby, the shadowy government operation) both realized that the other side ALSO has a person who can predict the future - if both sides can see what the other's going to do, then how does anybody make a move?

So our heroes, the psychic and the telekinetic, employ a tactic where they devise a plan, and then use a mind-wiping telepath to make them forget it. That's right, the characters learn valuable information, devise a plan, and then get it out of their heads, leaving themselves action-steps on little notes, like the guy in "Memento".

But it was hard for me to keep track of who knew what, and when, and whether they were made to forget something or not. It shouldn't be this hard to watch a movie! I half expected the heroes to completely forget what they were trying to accomplish, and just amble away from the main action. Can I use a mind-wiper to forget this plot? Oh wait, I never really learned it anyway.

There are a couple interesting ideas here - like another telepath who can implant an entire false history into someone's head, which here is called a "push". So someone can be mind-controlled, or manipulated to avenge their dead (but non-existent) brother, which is pretty original as far as powers go.

And I'm all for a good chase-the-mystery suitcase film, especially if it's got a good double-bluff, or even a triple. But when the bluff goes 7 levels deep, that seems like overkill. And the loyalties were always shifting - so many characters were playing both sides, it was difficult to keep track. Again, these films work best when the characters have clear goals - who do they work for, what are they trying to accomplish?

Plus, like in "Jumper", there's not really a resolution to the main battle - it almost feels like everyone got tired of fighting and just agreed to call it a night. Can't say as I blame them.

I could go in a couple different directions from here - I could watch "The Losers", starring Chris Evans. Or I could go back to superhero films, but I'm waiting on copies of "Green Hornet", "Thor", "X-Men: First Class", and so on. No, I'll stick with the concept of conspiracies, shadow ops groups, and implanting memories - if you're playing along at home, you should have no trouble predicting what tomorrow's movie will be.

Also starring Dakota Fanning (last seen in "I Am Sam"), Djimon Hounsou (last seen in "Stargate"), Corey Stoll (last seen in "The Number 23"), and Ming-Na.

RATING: 4 out of 10 fish tanks

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Year 3, Day 216 - 8/4/11 - Movie #937

BEFORE: From a man who can stop time to a man who can teleport all over the world. Linking from "Cashback", Sean Biggerstaff had a small role in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", as did Warwick Davis, who was also in "Star Wars Episode 1" with Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "The Other Guys"), who appears here.

THE PLOT: A genetic anomaly allows a young man to teleport himself anywhere. He discovers this gift has existed for centuries and finds himself in a war that has been raging for thousands of years between "Jumpers" and those who have sworn to kill them.

AFTER: What this film shares with "Cashback" is a central character who uses his power to land his dreamgirl - because, really, what's the point otherwise? See, kids, even if you can teleport into bank vaults, travel for free instantly anywhere in the world, it all means nothing unless you've got a hot girl to share it with.

Both films also feature heroes with questionable morals - as if undressing women in hypertime weren't wrong enough, tonight's central character just takes whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. From robbing banks to stealing cars, it makes for an odd hero. Are we supposed to admire him, just because he hasn't hurt anyone? He's still committed a long list of crimes.

So it's a little tough to know who to root for here. Samuel L. Jackson turns up as the head of a covert force, with possible government ties, trying to track down all of the world's teleporters and kill them. Because to let them live would apparently be too much chaos for the world to handle, and "only God" should have the power to be everywhere at once. Seems like strange reasoning, plus whatever happened to the separation of church and state?

Plus it's awful convenient to just show someone as a "shadow operative" - meaning that the screenwriter never has to answer some very basic questions about the character. It's just not enough to say someone is a spy (at least, it shouldn't be) - who do they work for? Who are their enemies? What, specifically, are they trying to accomplish?

Our nation is trillions of dollars in debt, we're fighting three wars in the Middle East, and the top priority in Washington is tracking down a couple of teleporters? This country's headed down the tubes...

It's telling that this film's director, Doug Liman, also directed "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" and "The Bourne Identity", two other spy films that were very lean in the details department. The first had enough action and comedy to cover, and the second used the cover of amnesia, which is looking more and more like a narrative dodge.

Also, in essence this film only tells half of a story. The characters are introduced, the conflict is established between the jumpers and the paladins, and then they fight, with no clear winner. Teleporting your opponent to the middle of nowhere is NOT a resolution - because you just know he'll come back, it's just going to take some time. When it would be so easy to just teleport one's opponent into a wall, or to someplace a mile above the ground - but then we're back to that morals question again.

Still, it would be nice if a film had something akin to an ending.

Also starring Hayden Christensen (last seen in "New York, I Love You"), Rachel Bilson (ditto), Jamie Bell (last seen in "King Kong"), Diane Lane (last seen in "Jack"), Michael Rooker (last seen in "Mississippi Burning"), with cameos from Tom Hulce (last seen in "Stranger Than Fiction"), Kristen Stewart (last seen in "Adventureland").

RATING: 4 out of 10 moneybags (awarded to the FX department, not the writers)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Year 3, Day 215 - 8/3/11 - Movie #936

BEFORE: Riffing off of last night's film, this one also features someone with the ability to freeze time. Based on a short film of the same name, so it's a little confusing - but I'm interested in seeing what happens to a short film when a feature gets built around it.

Linking from last night, Jesse Bradford from "Clockstoppers" was also in "Romeo & Juliet" with Pete Postlethwaite, who was in "Last of the Mohicans" with Jared Harris, who appears here (in an uncredited role, but that counts).

THE PLOT: After a painful breakup, Ben develops insomnia. To kill time, he starts working the late night shift at the local supermarket, where his artistic imagination runs wild.

AFTER: The original short film (18 minutes) got a lot of attention a few years back, because it features an art student/supermarket clerk with the ability to freeze time (or he imagines he does), and he uses this ability to undress women in the supermarket (or perhaps he imagines he does). And when he's got a store full of naked women, he pulls out his art pad, and he sketches them, as one does in life-drawing class. Any other activity would be equivalent to rape, and would produce an unsympathetic central character.

For the feature film, I presume the original short was kept intact, and more scenes were added before and after, to umm...flesh out the story. Showing a character recovering from a failed relationship does make him more sympathetic, but I'm not sure that the other additions to the story enhance it. There's a supermarket clerk that he develops feelings for, a best friend and an odd group of horndogs who also work at the market.

There's sort of an attempt to develop quirky characters, sort of akin to "Napoleon Dynamite", but also a look at Ben's sexual history - first kiss, first time seeing a naked woman, first time finding a stash of porno mags, that sort of thing. I wish that all of this added up to something greater than the sum of its parts, but it doesn't seem to.

Later in the film, Ben does use his ability for something other than seeing girls naked, but mostly it's for his quiet moments of introspection amidst the chaos of a party or a soccer game. I do think that the undressing part seems more in line with what the average male would do with such an ability.

But I wish the film would have gotten around to making some kind of point - Ben replaces his ex-girlfriend with his new girlfriend, without developing as an individual, a mistake that a lot of people seem to make. True happiness comes from being comfortable with yourself, not just chasing after the next person. Plus at one point there seems to be another person with the ability to live in the frozen world, but the movie just drops this plotline cold, with absolutely no follow-up. That's an odd choice.

I've found several films in the last month that I thought would have worked better as short films - here's one that started as a short film, and should have quit while it was ahead.

Starring Sean Biggerstaff, Michelle Ryan, Emilia Fox, Stuart Goodwin.

RATING: 3 out of 10 nude models

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Year 3, Day 214 - 8/2/11 - Movie #935

BEFORE: I'm finally getting over this cold, and settling back into my routine. It's a little disconcerting that it took me longer to recover from Comic-Con than it took me to attend Comic-Con. It's been a little hard to concentrate on movies, so if "Stargate" is actually a spectacular film that I just couldn't process, then I apologize. But that's all part of the deal - each movie gets judged based on my state of mind that day, which can't be helped.

Tonight French Stewart carries over from "Stargate", and whereas that film featured intergalactic travel in a short period of time, this film also shows how much can be accomplished in an instant - if you have a watch that stops time.

THE PLOT: A teenager accidentally activates a machine that enables him to speed up his body so that other people seem to be standing still.

AFTER: OK, I stand corrected. The watch doesn't stop time, it merely accelerates the wearer to a speed where he is virtually invisible, and can accomplish tasks before reverting to real time. Sounds dangerous.

So last night's film had hyperspace, and this one has hypertime - works for me. Plus in both films we see what happens when the government gets involved in experimental science stuff - not a good combination.

The IMDB points out that this is based on a story by H.G. Wells, and also an episode of "The Twilight Zone" - but I recall a TV movie from the 70's called "The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything", starring Robert Hays of "Airplane" and Pam Dawber from "Mork & Mindy". That film also featured a watch that could stop time, and they tested it on the beach by removing a woman's bikini top. Well, that got my young mind racing at the time - and made me think of the sexual things that one could do with such a watch. (This was also later explored in a book titled "Fermata")

Anyway, tonight's film - pretty basic, there are shady science/government goons who want the watch (we never really find out who they work for, though...seems like an odd point to leave out) and it ends up in the hands of a scientist's son, who uses it to have fun with his new girlfriend - deterring bullies, pranking a traffic cop. This is a family film, so he doesn't use the watch the way you might think - your typical horny teen would probably use it to sneak into the girls' locker room, right?

No, he uses it to infiltrate the secret science lab and rescue his father. Ho hum. This one's short and to the point, not a lot going on in my opinion.

NITPICK POINT: They do use the watch to help a friend win a DJ competition, by making him breakdance in impossible ways - but it's not a breakdance competition, is it? Plus, their accelerated movements don't make them invisible, just hard to see - and since they stand next to their friend to make him dance, the audience would see them, they would just be all blurry.

NITPICK POINT #2: While in hypertime, our hero has no problem driving a van across town while being chased by the villains (also in hypertime). But since it's hypertime, wouldn't a car engine still be functioning at regular speed - making for a very low-speed chase? The watch doesn't accelerate machines such as cars.

Sorry, but thanks for playing. Your premise is shot down.

Also starring Jesse Bradford (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers"), Robin Thomas, Julia Sweeney, Paula Garces, Michael Biehn (from the original "Terminator"), and Ken Jenkins (the guy from "Scrubs", not the Jeopardy! champ)

RATING: 5 out of 10 paintball guns

Monday, August 1, 2011


Year 3, Day 213 - 8/1/11 - Movie #934

BEFORE: A classic (?) sci-fi film that spawned several series on the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) which I never watched - partially because I never saw the original film. Linking tonight comes from Danny Trejo, who was in "Predators", and was also in "Grindhouse" (sort of) with Kurt Russell (last seen in "Sky High").

THE PLOT: An interstellar teleportation device, found in Egypt, leads to a planet with humans resembling ancient Egyptians who worship the god Ra.

AFTER: It seems like a no-brainer. I'm a sci-fi fan, here's a (presumably) well-liked sci-fi film with a cult following that I never got around to watching - so it should fit in perfectly with the purpose of the Project. Plus it deals with inter-stellar travel, aliens, and the mysteries of the pyramids. However, it just feels like someone forgot to make it interesting.

Maybe it's just the fact that I know that with three spin-off series, during which time dozens, if not hundreds, of alien worlds were visited, a full feature in which exactly ONE alien world is traveled to seems a little light in the story department. This feels like maybe 15 minutes of story stretched out to a two-hour feature.

So, the Egyptian gods were space aliens, and they kidnapped thousands of Ancient Egyptians to another galaxy? Why, to build more pyramids? And there they didn't evolve or form other cultures or develop other languages - seems a little convenient.

NITPICK POINT: One main character is a symbologist, who is needed to determine the 7th symbol in a sequence to activate the Stargate, which is like a big ring with about 30 symbols on it. The army's already figured out the first 6 symbols - why can't they just run the test 30 times to figure out the 7th symbol? Or just keep spinning the ring until the gate is activated? Geez, am I the only person who thinks of these things?

Also starring James Spader (last seen in "Wolf"), John Diehl (last seen in "A Time to Kill"), French Stewart (last seen in "Broken Arrow"), Jaye Davidson, Djimon Hounsou (last seen in "Constantine").

RATING: 4 out of 10 sarcophagi

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Year 3, Day 212 - 7/31/11 - Movie #933

BEFORE: From one Schwarzenegger-related franchise to another - and sticking with sci-fi for now. I finally took some time today to block out August's schedule, after looking up some key celebrity birthdays, the month kind of came together. I also picked the movie I most want to watch, though it might take me a week to get to it.

I won't link through "The Predator" - that's cheating. Fortunately Arnold was in "Red Heat" with Laurence Fishburne, who appears in tonight's film. Almost forgot about that one.

THE PLOT: A group of elite warriors are hunted by members of a merciless alien race known as Predators.

AFTER: It's a classic bit of science fiction: a number of characters wake up in a strange surrounding - in this case, a jungle - and have no idea how they got there. Are they in heaven, hell, or limbo? Who put them there? Is the situation real, or are they on drugs, or are they all sharing the same dream or experiment? Much like that classic Twilight Zone episode that was based on Pirandello's "Six Characters in Search of an Author". (Can I reference Pirandello in a "Predators" review? I guess I can!)

The truth here is far worse than any of those possibilities - these 8 people are on an alien planet, which also happens to be a game preserve. Essay question: Man - most dangerous game, or other white meat? But why THESE 8 people? Turns out they're a bunch of soldiers, criminals and mercenaries - to test the skills of the Predators. But aren't the humans here also "predators" in their own ways? So there's a double-meaning to the title? (Aren't we ALL predators, in essence, when you get right down to it?)

So, the group's challenge - figure out who is hunting them, how to strike back, and how to possibly get home. No easy task, considering the skills of the Predators - and they've had enough encounters with humans by this point to know what they're capable of.

Another film that's loaded with action, and there are lots of those great "He's right behind me, isn't he?" moments - but there was something special about the first Predator movie. You rarely saw the alien, so it was like "Jaws" in the jungle - here the aliens are front and center, so they're a little less special somehow. I also found it a little hard to follow, since so much of the film took place in the dark jungle, at times I couldn't even tell what was happening.

Still, a worthy addition to the franchise - better than the non-sensical "Alien vs. Predator" films.

Also starring Adrien Brody (last seen in "King Kong"), Topher Grace (last seen in "Valentine's Day"), Alice Braga (last seen in "Repo Men"), Walton Goggins (last seen in "Shanghai Noon"), Oleg Taktarov (last seen in "Miami Vice"), Danny Trejo (last seen in "Fanboys").

RATING: 5 out of 10 pit-traps