Friday, August 27, 2010

THE FILM TOME REPORT: ISSUE 2
















One of the most bewildering offscreen happenings in Hollywood in recent years has been the passage of Jaoquin Phoenix. "What the heck happened?" is all most of us can utter in regard to the man's current life. Back in October of 2008 he announced his retirement from acting in order to focus solely on the start of his rapping career. I still vividly recall seeing his changed persona on "Letterman." Sheesh! What the heck happened? This was the once outgoing and charming actor responsible for such remarkable performances as his portrayal of Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" and playing a venomous prince in "Gladiator." We all saw him and loved him in M. Night Shyamalan's (another guy of who we sometimes wonder "what the heck happened?") "Signs." Well, now the offscreen flummox is going to be seen onscreen (I'd say "viewer discretion strongly advised" after what I've read the film contains). Casey Affleck (Ben's little bro) has also donned a director's cap for a documentary entitled "I'm Still Here," subtitled "The Lost Year of Jaoquin Phoenix." Ready for more confounding fodder? Take a look at this trailer. But wait, there's more! (This story just gets more and more intriguing...) Compare these two statements made by Phoenix (as found on Wiki) at different times to different ears: in response to whether or not his "rapping career" was a hoax he said, "This is not a joke. Might I be ridiculous? Might my career in music be laughable? Yeah, that's possible, but that's certainly not my intention." Then, on another occasion, he said, "It's a put-on. I'm going to pretend to have a meltdown and change careers, and Casey is going to film it." If the latter is truth, the guy is a genius in my book (like Shyamalan), but loses points for letting the cat out of the bag. If the former is true... what the heck? (like Shyamalan)


Anytime the English director Danny Boyle makes a film I am going to see it. His films never bore and always puff my noggin (i.e. "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine"). He also crafted quite a gem that is moving up my own "Top Films" list every day, the Best Picture winner from last year, "Slumdog Millionaire." Boyle also snagged Best Director that night. Thus, I'm eagerly awaiting his next project: "127 Hours." I'm excited about another Boyle-ride, the proficient James Franco playing the lead, and story's origin. Here's a quick synopsis as found on Apple's Movie Trailer site: "'127 Hours' is the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston's (James Franco) remarkable adventure to save himself after a fallen boulder crashes on his arm and traps him in an isolated canyon in Utah." Us Utahns remember this story well, especially how it ends. Boyle called it "an action movie with a guy who can't movie." Here's the first trailer released for the film. I know where I'm going to be on November 5th!

I first saw this a week or so ago... a child movie critic reviewing some of the latest summer movies. This clip is not only relevant, because the films discussed are still in theaters and are all well-worth knowing about, but also shockingly funny. This tyke is a wee-bit eccentric to say the least eh? He has a clever critic title: "Lights, Camera, Jackson!," but I still have a grudge against him for giving "Inception" anything but an "A" (according to his scholastic grading-scale aptly dubbed "Report Card").... then I have to remind myself, he's eleven. Check it out!

Like aliens? Like monsters? In movies I mean. I sure do! Two of my favorite films from the last decade fit into those two camps, " 괴물 (The Host)" and "Cloverfield." Maybe you're as excited as me for "Skyline" and the cleverly named "Monsters." Then again, maybe not. Both are from relatively new directors who were responsible for visual effects before they got seats with their names on it. Both come out later this year. However, the monster/alien flick I'm most psyched for will be coming out next summer: "Super 8." Produced by Spielberg and directed by J.J. Abrams, nuff said. But I will say this: J.J. is a modern-day King Midas... everything he touches is gold.

Friends and family frequently question me, "Is 'Inception' still number three?" They are referring, of course, to IMDb's Top 250 where "Inception" has been sitting between the "The Godfather"s for a month's time. Well, I just checked this afternoon and it has gone down one notch. "Inception" is currently #4 folks. We call this "settling", expect more to come.

THE FILM TOME REPORT*: ISSUE 1


*The Film Tome Report is a quick look onto the cinematic horizon (what is approaching), occasionally a reminder of where we are (what is already here), and possibly a look in the rearview mirror (what has passed us by). It is a segment in All Manner of Plugs (my new weekly recommendations email). For more information check out allmops.blogspot.com.
Originally published on August 19, 2010...
If you have ever seen "Les triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville)," you remember. One time when I was watching it my cousin came in the room, after observing just a few minutes he revealed it was one of the weirdest things he has ever seen. "Les triplettes de Belleville" is one of the most refreshing animated films of the last decade to not come from a studio called Pixar or Ghibli. Writer and director Sylvain Chomet has been on my radar ever since. I've been waiting with bated breath for his next feature film (his genius segment in "Paris, je t'aime (Paris, I Love You)" was hardly enough to quench my thirst) and it is finally coming! I am delighted to share news of "L'illusionniste (The Illusionist)," see the stunning trailer for yourself. It's already been released across the pond, but there's no word when North America will get our eyes on it. I highly doubt a wide theatrical release in the States, so chances are you'll have to see it on a DVD (as it was with "Triplets"). You can count on me to let you know when and how.
Bryson (and perhaps the rest of you) may find the following of some interest. There is a new doc among us entitled "I Am Comic," directed by Jordan Brady. It claims to be "an ode to the art & occupational hazards of stand-up comedy." The film features the personalities of Jeff Foxworthy, Lewis Black, Brian Regan, and many others. Here's the trailer. This might be another one you'll only get to see at home.
The recent reign of James Francis Cameron isn't over yet. Apparently 2.7 billion dollars wasn't quite enough for "Avatar" to make back. It will be returning to select 3D and IMAX 3D theaters on August 27th for another run, this time with the words "Special Edition" attached. What makes it special? 9 more minutes. All those diagnosed with a case of the "Avatar blues" are already pre-ordering their tickets.
My final bit of film-related news is a rather sad bit. "At The Movies" just aired their final episode last weekend. Never heard of it? It used to be called "Siskel and Ebert and The Movies," and then later "At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper," and then after so many hosts swaps it just became known as "At The Movies," ending with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott in the iconic chairs. I knew this end was coming. Back in March of this year Disney announced that the show would be "airing its last original broadcast the weekend of August 14, 2010." Why? Said Disney, "from a business perspective it became clear this weekly, half-hour, broadcast syndication series was no longer sustainable." The Holly Reporter commented, "Online reviews and aggregator like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have made finding knowledgeable opinions [on] movies easier than ever for fans, yet have also evolved the consumption of criticism is such a way that made the half-hour review show seem dated." Ironically, most of the time I would watch "At The Movies" was via their online website. You can check out their last episode here, featuring reviews of the latest movie and a sentimental look back at the show's history. Look forward to a more detailed post regarding this issue on the Film Tome soon!
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That's it for this first issue of The Film Tome Report. Thank you for you readership and look forward to more reports each week.
I'm your reporter, J.S. Lewis.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

INCEPTION - REVIEW

INCEPTION
Released 7.16.2010

Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan


Nolan and team have created an instant classic, one not for the faint of heart nor for the weak of mind. It challenges the audience and every other movie.

THE REIGN OF "INCEPTION"
"Inception" is now enjoying its 5th week in theaters, and I do mean enjoying. It has already accumulated more than it took to make (a handsome $160 million) domestically alone and continues to climb. It is nearing a half billion in worldwide grosses. Now for three uses of the number 3: "Inception" sat in the throne (the #1 spot in the weekend box office) its first 3 weeks out the gate. I've now seen the movie three times. And, it currently ranks #3 in IMDb's Top 250 (and has for the past few weeks). Remember, that is a list of the top rated movies of all-time. The Top 5 of the Top 250 now reads, "1. The Shawshank Redemption, 2. The Godfather, 3. Inception, 4. The Godfather: Part II, 5. The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly." Ain't that something?

HERE WE GO (AGAIN)
Now... I could have easily written a review for "Inception" during its opening weekend, I saw it twice opening day for sake's sake! Rather than spew a stew of excuses as to why I, the sole curator in this Film Tome, have neglected my reviewing duties as of late, I will just emit my review for Nolan's latest and greatest. What better way to blow out the dust in my Film Tome catacombs than with a belated review of something like "Inception"?

INCEPTION
Cobb has quite the history.
Cobb is an extractor. Extraction is stealing an idea and it is done with a device that enables one to enter into another's dreams. Gone are the days of torturing people for information. Now, if you really want to know something, you break into someone (not someone's house, someone) and take it.
Cobb gets hired to perform inception. This is the opposite of extraction, meaning you break into someone and give something. Like extraction, it is information or rather, an idea.
Cobb has quite the history.

A BUILT NOLAN BUILDS
The paths of filmmakers are fascinating. There are several camps that many directors will fall into: Those who consistently deliver greatness (Terrence Malick and Martin Scorsese), those who you never know what to expect (Ang Lee and Clint Eastwood), and those of diminishing returns (I don't want to point any fingers). Some seem to progress, each film better than the next. Writer and director, Christopher Nolan, doesn't necessarily fall into that camp, but you can definitely see his progress and what he is building from. He's taken the mind-bending elements manifested in "Memento" and "The Prestige" and the action-packed scenes from "The Dark Knight" and crafted a hybrid of genres and techniques called "Inception." The result is nothing short of remarkable. That said, there are a few new ingredients that this British-American filmmaker is throwing in this time around (such as many differing locations). Pieced together, he goes places few filmmakers have gone before. While there are still two exploits in the "Nolan canon" I've yet to face (not that I don't want to, I most certainly do!), I'm as eager as a klepto in a pawn show to pronounce this his masterpiece.

A GLORIOUS ENSEMBLE
Last year, when I saw the first trailer for "Inception," the aspect I was most psyched about was the star-studded cast. With three of my personal favorites (Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Ken Watanabe) and Ellen Page (who proved her acting chops to me in "Juno") I was 100% onboard for the release. Those four are exceptional herein, particularly Leo. They've all given better performances elsewhere (in fact, just earlier this year for Leo in "Shutter Island"), but they get the job done and done so well. Cillian Murphy is as fabulous as ever and Tom Hardy was a welcome new face for me. It was fun to see Lukas Haas onscreen again, if only for the first fifteen minutes (he and Gordon-Levitt rocked my cinematic world in of the best indie neo-noir set in a high school flick ever, "Brick"). Dileep Rao, who we all saw in "Avatar" and don't remember, does dandy work here and is at times quite comical.

Finally, Marion Cotillard is a definite highlight and needs mentioning. She delivers a chilling performance as Mal, which adds an entire new layer to the already immense experience that is "Inception." The film carries much more weight because her performance works. The story sets us up to dread and even disdain this character, but as the film unravels and as you ponder it afterwards (especially after having seen it three times), you realize there's much more to her, especially when you consider who she is in this film. What I deem the most important moment in the entire narrative is the exchange between Mal and her husband, Cobb (Leo), in the film's final act. It is a commentary on and account of true love, a scarce principle in blockbuster films. It was on my third viewing that this scene really registered with me. I recently had a conversation with a good friend about critiquing film. He acknowledged all the filmmaking aspects and their importance, but told me he ultimately judges films based on how they make him feel. We sometimes accuse "film critics" of being jaded, or should I say having "waxed cold." While there may be some who fit this description, I think it wholly unfair. Ultimately, I can only speak for myself and so I declare that the way I feel is the first and last and everything in between when it comes to judging films. Being a cinephile and film scholar (in a college setting and in my own right) I have learned more about the filmmaking aspects, and that is all they are and all they will ever be... aspects. They're important. No doubt. They have place in a review. No doubt. They influence and inspire on their own. No doubt. But when it comes down to the movie in its entirety, I too judge based on how I feel.

I believe this section was meant to address the acting. I smile. That is the joy of writing, you never know where the word after the next word might take you. The fact that this scene in "Inception" took me to this declaration should further testify its grandeur. That fact that the performances of two actors took me to this study should further testify their talent. To sum up my thoughts on acting... I am proud to say my initial impressions when I saw the first trailer all those months ago proved true, this is one of the most sterling ensemble casts in recent memory.

THE EFFECT
When confronting the topic of dreams in filmmaking, you have to realize that a certain door is being opened. Inside that door, anything goes. Some have criticized aspects that hold no weight due to the aforementioned principle. In a way, he has made the story "critic proof." It is a brilliant idea. I bet some wish they had extracted it from Nolan before he got around to actually making it. Along with this concept of dreams is the notion of time within the dreams, namely five minutes in the real world will give you an hour on the first level and more so the deeper you go (a la entering Narnia). It is an enchanting characteristic that plays a major role in how things play out. Because of this "time-expansion" we get some devastatingly awesome moments. There is a fight scene just over halfway through that blew me away. A friend of mine who I saw it with during my first viewing commented on how it gave him goosebumps. I concurred and got the same result again and again. Not since the Wachowski Brothers brought us "The Matrix" have we seen action quite like this.

It is a combination of things that provides such effects on the audience. The mind-boggling subject matter, the overall plot (Nolan has such confidence in his audience that he leaves us in the dark for most of the first act, much is explained and shown as we go along), the orienting camera work, and the elegant special effects all work together to daze and dazzle. The first time I saw "Inception" I was in constant awe and in danger of jaw-dislocation. The second time I noticed my heart beating rapidly throughout and for nearly fifteen minutes after the credits had rolled. The third time I saw it at the Megaplex 17 in Jordan Commons. I was treated to better audio and video than what I had been getting at the Cinemark. I was blown away, again. I think if I experience this film in IMAX I'll never sleep again.

A big part of the "Inception"-effect owes thanks to Hans Zimmer's mighty score. He is the name behind the grand music of "The Pirates of the Caribbean," "Gladiator," and "The Thin Red Line." The pounding theme for "Inception" was so memorable from the trailers and is downright sensational while in the theater. I've purchased a few numbers from the soundtrack and can muster up a flavor of the feeling when I blast it in my car (if you love the music as much as I do go to iTunes and download "Dream is Collapsing" and "Time"). The latter is the song that plays during the film's final minutes (before the credits roll) and is absolutely beautiful, adding considerably to the power of the adjoining imagery.

LIVING ON
"Inception" is going to live on. Anyone who sees it will not forget it anytime soon. It is an impossibility for someone not to converse about it after viewing it. Discussions and questions and theories and statements galore will abound those walking out of the theater and on the drive home and the morning after. People all around you are secretly designing and crafting their own totems, which they will keep in their pockets evermore. If you were to dip into the message boards at IMDb for "Inception" you would be stunned, first by the amount of content (I just checked, even now it is averaging a new post every other minute) and then by the ideas and theories circulated therein that you never even considered. I've spent more time than I care to admit reading and posting in there (a limbo in its own right). Then, perhaps the best way "Inception" will remain with us: dreams. We all dream. Every night. You awake and think about what was just happening. It was so real. You try to remember, but it's like water in a raised colander. You think about where you are, what you need to do today, this, that, and then it's gone. We could be in limbo every night and not even remember it. Whenever we think about our dreams or the practice altogether, chances are that our minds will be led to "Inception."


★★★★★



CONTENT: sequences of action and violence, some language

Updated 9.14.2011