Thursday, December 20, 2012

Inception (2010)

Inception is a brilliant film with a unique, mind-boggling plot, filled with intense sequences that would keep you on the edge of your seat. You’ve got to pay close attention if you don’t want to get lost in order to follow the complex layers of dreams. Christopher Nolan tried so hard to ensure that this project remains discreet, now I understand why he went through the trouble. Just one piece of information could spoil the whole story so if you’re planning on seeing it soon, don’t worry I won’t ruin it! Or will I?

Dom Cobbs, portrayed by Leonardo DiCarprio, is the most skilled extractor who knows all the tricks and techniques incorporated in order to extract any secrets from your mind by delving inside your dreams. He’s got one last job, and perhaps the most complicated of all: he must perform inception, which is the act of implanting an idea in a person’s subconscious mind. In addition, this final mission will reunite him with his family, the highly anticipated moment that would wash away all his guilt and regrets of the past. He gathers a team composed of a point man, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); an architect, Ariadne (Ellen Page); a forger, Eames; a chemist, Yusuf; and Saito (Ken Watanabe), who will give Cobb what he wants if he completes this mission.

The film duration is 2 ½ hours. You get 50 minutes to adjust to this new, fascinating world until the mission actually begins. This may seem like it’s dragging excessively and is laying too many pipes but the audience is captivated by the extraordinary visuals during the interference of dreams despite the lengthy inception. As soon as you reach the last epic scene, which is approximately the second half of the movie since there are scenes within this scene, you’re entirely engrossed in the film as the minutes tick away. Christopher Nolan brilliantly depicted how every dream within a dream appears slower than the previous dream as he flashes back and forth between the 4 levels. That leaves 4 timers ticking as the team executes inception!

However, Inception has a few flaws. There are several prolonged scenes with Mal (Marion Cotillard) that seem to drag. Also, some of the characters’ lines are not clearly stated so it’s hard to understand what they are saying, which is an issue since that’s what establishes the plot of the whole movie. Cillian Murphy is well casted as Robert Fischer Jr. but his character wasn’t completely developed. First, he appears nearly halfway into the film and at the end it’s hard to recall his purpose in the film!

Overall, I love Inception’s intricate twists and it definitely leaves me pondering at the end. The CGI Effects are phenomenal, ranging from massive buildings bending within enfolding cities to the explosive chaos of crumbling dreams! It must have taken them forever to film the scene of the revolving hotel hallway where Arthur fights projections with only seconds to spare in order to improvise a “kick” simulation.
Han Zimmer, one of my favorite composers, created the soundtracks for this film. It’s absolutely perfect! I’m listening to it as I type! These sophisticated soundtracks doubles the escalating intensity. First comes the delicate violins or strumming of guitars as the action picks up then the brass starts blasting in your ears!

By now you’ve probably realized that this is not for the Die Hard fans, it’s an intellectual psychological thriller. Sure, there are a lot of intense action sequences, but this is one of those movies that make you think deeper. I suggest watching it a second time if you exit the theater mystified.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Looper (2012)

Looper - the most original action movie in recent years that has its dark moments, bursts of violence, and dramatic scenes. In year 2074, criminals have developed a system of disposing their victims, who are sent back in time to be executed by specialized assassins known as Loopers.

Rian Johnson did an absolutely terrific job, as the style and stunning visuals are some of this film’s strongest and most appealing attributes. I love the film’s concept of time traveling, assassins, and “closing the loop”. The rules of time travel vary within each film, and in Looper, the future Joe begins to see double vision as his memories are altered based on the change of events in the past Joe’s life. When the film provides two different timelines with a glimpse of Joe’s future life in Shanghai, its montage captures the essence of a life full of crime. Also, I find it interesting how the idea of telekinesis was incorporated in this film.

One particular scene with Seth was truly memorable. Rian Johnson created such a disturbing and frightening scene with minimal gore. Rather, the music, pacing, and acting paint a gruesome image in the audience’s mind. In terms of soundtrack, I love the song used in the trailer because it matches the editing of the action sequences perfectly, delivering powerful blows and enhancing the futuristic atmosphere.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, and Bruce Willis were fantastic in portraying their roles. It’s fascinating and quite convincing how Levitt wore prosthetics to resemble a younger Bruce Willis and how he imitated Willis’ mannerisms. I feared that the prosthetics would be unrealistic or distracting, but it was neither.

The first half of the film taking place in the city was fascinating due to the stylish directing and noir elements, which were exceptional, but waned off towards the middle. Once Joe arrives at the farm, the shift in tone seems to result in an entirely different film with more drama. Ultimately, this is a unique action film with distinctive elements that draw me into the story as I am introduced to the world of Loopers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall may have less action, but it is more of a psychological thriller with an ominous, demented villain, brilliantly portrayed by Javier Bardem. Once again, Daniel Craig does an excellent job as the cool, calm, and collected Mr. Bond. In addition, I am delighted to see Ralph Fiennes join the franchise!

The opening sequence with the fabulous soundtrack performed by Adele and dark visuals was well done. Some shots had a Tim Burton feel such as those with cold tombstones, thick fog sifting in the air, and foreboding trees with dead branches. The cinematography was marvelous as well. No shaky shots that may obstruct the flow of the action scenes. Also, the locations were interesting, especially the glass building with bright blue lights and the desolate hills of the film’s finale.

I love the references to previous James Bond films. There was applause from the audience once the Aston Martin makes an appearance! One moment near the end gave me a laugh. Once Silva ordered his men to blow up the Aston Martin, James Bond obviously thought that was uncalled for. No one hurts his dear Aston Martin…No one.

Skyfall’s only flaw is in Javier Bardem’s elaborate scheme, which results in various plot holes. I would think that Silva, being such a cunning rogue agent, could easily kill M. However, he creates cryptic codes, devises his own arrest and escape, and threatens to uncover the identities of numerous MI6 agents just to make a failed and disorganized attempt to shoot M in a full court.

Overall, I still greatly enjoyed this film and how it delved into the past of James Bond. I was satisfied by the fact that the film lasts nearly two and a half hours, taking its time to engross the audience and let the scenes linger on. There was never a slow moment despite the fact that this film had less action scenes than its two predecessors, which had extensive chase and fight sequences. Sam Mendes’ direction was superb, and I eagerly await the next two films with Daniel Craig. Afterwards, who should be cast as the next Mr. Bond?

James Bond will return…

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The highly anticipated conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight Trilogy certainly lived up to its towering expectations. Each film of the trilogy has a central theme: fear for “Batman Begins”, chaos for “The Dark Knight”, and pain for “The Dark Knight Rises”. Earning around $90 million on the release date, this film is set to make an estimated $160 million this weekend, the second highest weekend gross compared to The Avengers’ $207 million.

It has been 8 years since the events in “The Dark Knight”. Meeting his match physically and mentally, Batman comes out of hiding to prevent Bane (Tom Hardy), leader of the League of Shadows, from overthrowing Gotham and taking control of a massive nuclear weapon. Several new characters are introduced such as Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), John Blake a.k.a. Robin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). An additional vehicle to the Batmobile was introduced as well: The Bat, an aircraft designed by Fox (Morgan Freeman).

One of my favorite things about this film is the sound track by Hans Zimmer. The deep pounding rhythm of the drums blasting in my ears combined with the fierce chanting of the people of Gotham tremendously intensifies the cinematic experience. Christopher Nolan usually co-writes the scripts for his films and, once again, he was quite secretive about the story, revealing the conclusion to the cast verbally to prevent any leaks. I love that Christopher Nolan provides a darker and more realistic tone to the film, despite the fact that it’s a superhero story.

With a 165-minute duration, I believe they could have spent more time on extending action scenes. Since this massive crowd was assembled for the final fight scene between cops and inmates, the fight sequence could have lasted an extra few minutes. Though, I loved the lingering wide shots of Gotham City’s demise because it allows the audience to absorb the magnitude of the crisis from an outside perspective as it’s being cut off from the rest of the world. They also could have spent time to explain why Bane wears the mask for those who haven’t read the comic books. However, I read that the mask provides him with gas that serves as an anesthetic for a previous injury to alleviate his constant chronic pain, hence the theme of the film.

This film was well casted with most of the actors from Christopher Nolan’s previous film Inception including Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Cillian Murphy. Each villain of the previous films made an appearance with the exception of The Joker, out of respect to Heath Ledger. Tom Hardy is a brilliant choice for the villain and gained 30 pounds for the role of Bane, a massive, imposing character with immense strength donning a mask and a bulletproof vest. What’s odd is that his voice in the first scene is different than in the rest of the film; though, I find it quite menacing and well done.

 Christian Bale will not be reprising his role as Bruce Wayne unless Christopher Nolan approaches him with a script. However, this is unlikely since the director is putting the Dark Knight films behind him to work on other projects. He also co-wrote and will produce “Man of Steel” coming out next summer, which will be directed by Zack Snyder. This is a great team because Christopher Nolan adds depth to the film while Zack Snyder will create stunning action scenes and special effects. I look forward to this Superman reboot, and I encourage you to go see “The Dark Knight Rises” in theaters if you haven’t already!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Below is an analysis essay comparing the film 3:10 to Yuma to its short story by Elmore Leonard.

Transport to Contention

Character-driven stories, in this case, a western, are particularly fascinating as they resonate with the reader or audience, allowing them to interpret the reasons behind each character's actions. For this reason, 3:10 to Yuma is unique from other typical westerns featuring horseback chase sequences, sharpshooters with cigars hanging from their mouths, or vengeful duels in the glaring sun. Set in 1884, this is a compelling film released in 2007 with the screenplay written in collaboration by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt, and Derek Haas and adapted from Elmore Leonard’s short story, published in 1953. In both versions, a notorious outlaw arrested for multiple robberies and murders must be escorted to a train heading to Yuma. In the short story by Elmore Leonard, outlaw Jim Kidd is led by Deputy Paul Scallen with a shotgun to the train station, primarily focusing on the tense finale in the booming town of Contention. On the other hand, director James Mangold’s adaptation depicts the events leading up to that point as the struggling rancher Dan Evans involves himself in the arrest of outlaw Ben Wade in the town of Bisbee, later leading him to the train station in Contention in order to provide for his family. Although Elmore Leonard’s “3:10 to Yuma” seems more sensible in the motives behind each character’s actions, the characters are bland in comparison to those in its adaptation. Therefore, while the deputy and outlaw stay true to their characters in the short story, its film adaptation 3:10 to Yuma is superior due to the character transformations of Dan Evans and Ben Wade.
While both versions are unrealistic in terms of action sequences, the short story’s character motivations are more realistic. In both cases, it seems quite improbable that Paul Scallen would survive the final shootout while being surrounded by Jim Kidd’s gang or that Dan Evans would be able to reach the train station after facing a town-full of armed men in spite of his sharpshooter skills and military experience. But action scenes aside, the characters are more believable in the short story than in 3:10 to Yuma. In the film adaptation, Evans has nearly every reason to drop the job and return to his family alive. He recovers his relationship with his son, William, who now looks up to Evans after witnessing his courageous acts and begs him to come home. In addition, Ben Wade repeatedly urges Evans to take his money to provide for his family and restore his farm. However, Evans insists on transporting Wade on the train to Yuma, even if this requires sacrificing his life. On the contrary, it makes more sense for deputy Paul Scallen to risk his life for justice by having Jim Kidd hanged for his numerous crimes. That is his job, which is shown when Jim Kidd states, “You risk your neck to save my life, now you’ll risk it again to send me to prison” (32). Paul Scallen is paid to enforce the law. Furthermore, the fact that Jim Kidd would retain his image as the villain with no remorse if Scallen were to be killed is more realistic and expected as he merely respects Scallen for his loyalty to the law and skillfulness. He has no reason to help Scallen accomplish his job because neither of them revealed their personal lives to each other as in the film adaptation and Scallen is perfectly capable, portrayed as a more typical hero in a western. Compared to the unconventional, yet more entertaining ending of the film adaptation, “3:10 to Yuma”, Elmore Leonard’s version has more realism, a prevalent style in most of his work consisting of gritty crime thrillers.

In comparison to Paul Scallen, Dan Evans is a far more fascinating character due to his transformation and how his values dictate his actions. Once both characters are on the train to Yuma, Scallen finally smiles and “suddenly felt closer to [Kidd] than any man he knew” (32). There is simply not enough backstory or interaction between the two characters behind this vague statement especially since not much is known about either. As the two men wait in a hotel room for the train to arrive, Jim Kidd asks, “What made you join the law,” and Scallen answers, “the money” (28). Both Paul Scallen and Dan Evans are initially driven by money; however, this is where their motivations diverge. In the end, Scallen remains primarily concerned with money, asserting that he, “really earned [his] hundred and a half” (35). While this ending is interesting and satisfying, it does not result in a large emotional impact as the film does. Before Scallen steps out onto the streets and confronts Jim Kidd’s gang, he, “kept asking himself if it was worth it” (32). In the context of the short story, opening fire on a group of armed men with no backup does not seem as “worth” the risk as Dan Evans’s more personal reasons for carrying out the responsibilities of the deputies of Bisbee. What makes the film substantially more moving is how each character unveils their true character and inner secrets throughout the journey to Contention. As Ben Wade attempts to escape, Dan Evans exposes the truth that, "I ain't never been no hero, Wade. Only battle I seen, we was in retreat. My foot got shot off by one of my own men. You try telling that story to your boy. See how he looks at you then." The fact that Evans would sacrifice his own life to maintain justice even though he has “no obligation” makes him a more interesting character than Paul Scallen. This indicates that Evans values honor and justice over his life, and this sense of right versus wrong drives him to finish his job regardless of the roadblocks he faces as Charlie Prince assembles Wade’s gang on the streets. In addition, Evans does not give in to temptations as Wade repeatedly offers him money for freedom. The fact that the son finally respects his father demonstrates the impact that the mission had on him. Just after William threatens to shoot the outlaw, Wade states, “there’s wild in his eyes” and that William reminds him of himself. If William were still filled with loathing and desire to follow Ben Wade’s criminal ways, he possibly would shoot Wade at the conclusion. However, Evans wants to lead William on a respectable path far from the amoral life of Ben Wade. Thus, Dan Evans is a more profound character and has a greater impact on the other characters compared to Paul Scallen due to his transformation throughout the film.
While Jim Kidd resembles the ruthless rebel in the western story, Ben Wade proves to be far more conniving and murderous with the greatest character arc in the film. From the beginning, Jim Kidd always underestimates Paul Scallen. For instance, while the tension builds and Charlie Prince is about to appear with the gang, Kid urges him to, “Run like hell while you’re still able” (34). In addition, Jim Kidd does not seem quite as menacing as Ben Wade. The way that he is portrayed in the short story, Jim Kidd seems just like a rebellious kid with no chance against Paul Scallen such as when he attempts to escape, “crawling frantically and coming to his feet when Scallen…grabbed him by the collar” (35). Ben Wade is charming, yet cold, and does not hesitate to murder, which is demonstrated in multiple instances. While they are camped at night in front of a fire, Evans tells his son that, “shooting animals is a lot different from shooting a man”, but Wade responds, “No, it isn’t. Not in my opinion.” This also indicates that Wade leads a group of animalistic men with no sense of morality, especially Charlie Prince. In the film, the two characters seem to have respect for each other from the start. Wade initially teased him relentlessly; however, he began to admire Dan’s strong character. Wade points out all of the wrongdoings of the rest of the lawmen; however, he respects Dan for being a genuinely good man. Wade and Evans are enemies, yet they have this camaraderie. For instance, when Evans begins to regard Wade as a friend, he wants Wade to know that he “ain’t stubborn…for keeping [his] family on that ranch.” Towards the conclusion, Evans’s remark of being a “hero” completely turned the plot around as Wade empathizes with him, and even tries to save his life several times during the chaotic finale. This ten-minute action scene at the end shows how Ben Wade wants Dan Evans to succeed even if he is being escorted to prison. Wade admires Evans’s lack of fear to the point of killing his entire gang in revenge after Charlie Prince shoots Evans. Thus, the director uses action to progress the relationship between the two main characters. While Wade’s character changes for the good throughout the film, he is still Ben Wade the notorious outlaw, as it is implied that he escapes from Yuma once again, whistling to his horse. This conclusion to a western film is far more memorable due to the fascinating relationships between the characters and their transformations.
In the short story, Paul Scallen and Jim Kidd are more typical and predictable, yet more realistic that the characters in the film adaptation. However, the reader does not learn much about either character in the short story. Even though the film adaptation is unrealistic at times, this is acceptable because of suspension of disbelief, and the execution of the screenwriters and director, therefore, not detracting from the quality of the film. 3:10 to Yuma is preferable because the two main characters are considerably more engrossing characters that relate to the audience and draw in their attention due to their contrasting and evolving personalities and attitude towards each other. Furthermore, the film does an excellent job of integrating themes of justice, values, and honor. Thus, the film adaptation is essentially superior to the original short story by Elmore Leonard due to the characterization, motives, and transformation of Dan Evans and Ben Wade.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Notebook (2004)

First off, I love the scenery, especially the opening sequence at the lake as the sun receded below the horizon, painting the sky crimson red. In slow motion, a man rows his boat on the lake, creating gentle ripples through the water with the red sky reflected off its surface. A flock of birds soar past the house as the camera moves in slowly, introducing Noah and Allie, portrayed by Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.

Ever since they first met at the carnival, where Noah asked Allie out on a date in a rather unconventional manner, the two are absolutely crazy about each other despite their difference in social status. Taking place in the 1940's, as the idyllic summer in South Carolina comes to an end, Allie’s parents forbid her from seeing Noah. Years later, they are engaged in a love triangle, as Rachel must choose between a man from her past and her wealthy fiancé.

The lead characters have great chemistry and depth, engaging the audience in their impassioned story. They were able to reconnect like soul mates in spite of all the years of separation, showing how true love conquers all. I love how Noah fights to win her back, writing letters every day as he reminisces the sweet memories of the past, transitioning into the present time as he admires their renovated home that used to be the abandoned house where they spent the night together. One of my favorite parts is the scene when Noah leads her to a room overlooking the river with a canvas and paint brush waiting for her, just as she requested (It seems that Rachel McAdams is always painting in her movies). If there is anyone who knows her well, it’s Noah.

The Notebook is a well-crafted love story. I love that the director chose two actors who were relatively new to Hollywood. I couldn’t think of anyone one who could portray the roles better. The way the filmmakers pace the film was very gentle and slow, taking its time in a genuine, old-fashioned way. The swans were enchanting, but a bit over-the-top. The scene where they dance in the middle of the street in the still night seems foolish, but romantic. Several scenes featured in the novel by Nicholas Sparks were omitted; although, I believe the filmmakers made the right choice, as the film was already running at a two-hour duration.

However, the biggest flaw is including the scenes in present time. The fact that different actors portray the two main characters in their later years and the scenes have a different tone disrupts the flow of the story. Even though I dislike this second layer of storytelling, I must admit that it adds depth to the story. Nevertheless, I would prefer to focus on the story of Noah and Allie’s past.

Overall, The Notebook is always a classic love story about giving love a second chance.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Eclipse (2012)

Eclipse is a subjective documentary.

Thanks to Incan Abraham, a psychedelic rock band, for the soundtrack.

Click here to watch

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Complicated (2012)

"Complicated" depicts a 'human mood ring', Jon, who tries to win Lena's heart through various bizarre costumes such as dragon and elephant suits.

This is my third comedy, in which I utilized the track dolly to capture the shots and various angles of a rustic courtyard that compliments the French soundtrack.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

Without doubt, Ghost Protocol is the best action film of 2011! It's very rare for the fourth film in a series to exceed it's predecessors.

Ghost Protocol has all the elements you could ask for in a pure adrenaline action film! The script was exceptionally written in the sense that there was a constant flow of action. The casting was right, the pacing was smooth, and the scene where Tom jumps off the tallest building in the world was mind-blowing! Apparently, Tom Cruise has no fear of heights since he executes most of his own stunts. When he said, "Go big or go home," he definitely meant it!

I'm glad that Jeremy Renner joined the IMF cast and it's no surprise that he's perfect for the role. Michael Nyqvist did a great job as the villain, contrary to his character as a detective in the swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The fight between Paul Patton and Léa Seydoux was well choreographed. Benji, played by Simon Pegg, brought some comedic elements into the film such as:

Before Brandt jumps with the levitating metal suit:
Brandt "So I'm basically jumping into an oven"
Benji "Yes, but I'll catch you."

Leading up to the Burj Khalifa scene:
Benji "Okay, this is a slight wrinkle, but we'll have to go into the server room from the outside."
Ethan "We?"
Benji "Well I'm on the computer."

Referring to the gloves used to climb the side of the Burj Khalifa:
Benji "Remember, blue is glue."
Ethan "And red?"
Benji "Dead."

I love this film!