Friday, May 14, 2010

Trailer Impressions: Inception

The newest film by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Momento, Insomnia) called Inception has been pretty mysterious to say the least. Over the past few months all we have seen of the film has been a few surreal scenes involving the lead Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can, Blood Diamond, Shutter Island). However, after the most recent trailer a lot more of the films plot has been revealed. First, the film seems to center around a not-to-distant future organization which specializes in invading the dreams of the sleeping. Up until this most recent trailer all we have really seen was DiCaprio in the film. However, this most recent trailer has highlighted the supporting cast. Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are highlighted in particular. It seems that Ellen Page is playing the new recruit to the dream catcher organization (hired right out of college it seems). Gordon-Levitt seems to be the hotshot second in command. I was very surprised to see both of these actors in the trailer since I was not aware of the fact that they were even in the film. I was excited to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt working with Nolan since I believe Levitt is one of this generations best actors and Nolan is one of the best working directors of this generation.
The plot of the film seems to revolve around DiCaprio's character training Page's character at first. There is also a mention of DiCaprio "finding a way home" after "this last job."
One of the things that struck me about the trailer were its visuals. A film that deals with dreams would have a tendency to go in the way of the bizarre (think the dream sequences in Terry Gilliam's Brazil) however, it seems that Nolan is going for a much more real look at our dreams. DiCaprio's character mentions that "Dreams feel real while we're in them, it's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange" and it seems that that statement is the theme of this film. While the visuals of Inception look to be interesting they are all very real. We see office buildings, snowy mountains, and hotel hallways. There are no psychotic clowns running around and there are no strange nightmare creatures. It seems that Nolan is going to take a real look at the reasons why we dream and how it alters our perception of reality.
So as you may have guessed by now I am really looking forward to this movie. This is probably the one film I am very excited for this whole summer and it's probably the only film I'll have any interest in seeing at midnight.

Here's the trailer so you can see for yourself

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Film Is Like Food

Film is like food. Surprise surprise right? Let me explain what I mean by breaking up the different kinds of film into different kinds of categories based on different food categories. Let us begin.

1. Junk Food

Junk food is something that is a lot of fun and while it might not have any real nutritional value it does briefly put your hunger pains to rest. When you're young you think junk food is amazing. You'd rather have a bag of Doritos than a steak. However, as you grow older junk food begins to lose its hold on you. Slowly but surely you desire something better, something with a bit more substance. This is the category where a lot of action films, such as the entire filmography of Michael Bay and McG. While the works of these men aren't great or even good by any stretch of the imagination they are something that can be watched and enjoyed. They usually involve a lot of explosions and attractive females. The stories will be basic and usually are nothing more than an overblown McGuffin quest. These films will not even attempt to challenge any of the viewers ideals or beliefs however they will try to shove some sort of moral about the film that is usually at the most preachy and at worst totally counter to what we've seen in the rest of the film (in the end the hero learns the value of human life after blasting his way through hundreds of "baddies" to make it to his end goal). After junk Food what's next?

2. Hors D'Oeuvres

Hors D'Oeuvres are basically classy snacks. These delicious treats have a bit of depth and aren't very easy to prepare but they still leave you wanting more.Many times they're simply something to wet your appetite for the main course. These are just like high end action films such as The Terminator. These films closely resemble the Snack Food category but they have a little something more. Usually you can't quite describe it but they're always just a step above most action films you watch. I also put good short films (such as the famous Pixar Shorts) in this category. They're good but you just need something a bit more to truly satisfy your appetite.

3. The Entree

Finally! Something you can really sink your teeth into! Entree's (if you've ordered the right one) are a filling and delicious meal. There's plenty on your plate to chow down on to satisfy all but the biggest of appetites. There is usually a good amount of skill involved in making these great dishes and, if you're a true connoisseur, you'll try as many different varieties as possible. If you're truly brave, you'll eventually move on to foreign cuisine. It may take you awhile to get used to the strange flavors and different textures but in time you'll learn to love the variety. Good/great films with a lot of depth are just like this. Whether it's classics such as The Godfather, Casablanca, and Gone With the Wind or modern great films such as Fight Club, Up In The Air, and Fargo these films are worth trying. Many times you will have to expand your film pallet before attempting to consume and fully appreciate these films. However, the more films you watch the more you begin to understand and appreciate what these films have accomplished. Eventually you can move on to the great foreign cinema masterpieces. Most will start with the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s or the Monty Python films. From there they will flow into mainstream Italian and French cinema. Slowly but surely you will begin to understand and appreciate the subtle difference between our own film style and those of our European cousins. Eventually you will flow out even further to encompass the entire world's cinematic experiences then finally you will be ready for the fourth type of film food.

4. The Delicacy

Not many are ready to brave these strange waters of culinary consumption. Here you will find some of the oddest things imaginable. Things like live squid, fish eyeballs, and raw intestines. You will usually only eat these things initially because a friend of yours loves them and insists you try it. You'll fake a smile as you try your best to eat what is put before so as to not seem rude. At first you will absolutely hate it. You will think it's garbage, it's crap, it's absolutely not worth putting into your mouth. However, if you're given the food enough you'll begin to understand it. Slowly but surely you'll start to comprehend the intricate flavors and complexities of these rare food finds. What are commonly referred to as "Art House Films" are much the same. You will absolutely hate them at first. You'll think "This is a stupid film, why the heck am I watching this!?" However, given time you'll begin to truly understand these films. Films like 400 Blows, Brazil, or Diary of a Country Priest. Soon you'll love these kinds of films and they'll be one of your favorite types of films to consume if for no other reason then their uniqueness.

Now, you're probably thinking "Isaac, you sure seemed to cover every kind of film there is!" Well, imaginary question asker, you are almost right. There is one last category that is truly unique and that only the real film fanatic can appreciate. That type of film is...

5. Garbage

Garbage is absolutely gross. There is no redeeming qualities to it at all. It stinks, it tastes bad, and the only reason you've ever gone near it is to fulfill a dare of some kind or to have a good laugh with your friends. To the commoner trash has no real value but to someone who truly understands trash it can be a recipe for some of the greatest comedies ever made. Film trash is, once again, exactly the same. Almost no one watches these terrible movies such as Quest For The Mighty Sword, or Troll 2 except those who just can't get enough of horrible movies. The dialog is terrible, the acting sucks, the (what I laughingly call) cinematography is beyond bad, and the production values are less than that of a single coffee break of Lost. So why watch these? Why consume these terrible pieces of media at all? Simple. They're absolutely hysterical! Trashy films will produce amounts of laughter on par with the best comedies ever made.

So that's all of it! All five categories of film (in my personal opinion).

A Written Review: Ordinary People

Ordinary People is one of the better character pieces I’ve seen in a long time. Robert Redford shows his particular brand of direction, which I believe he later perfected with A River Runs Through It. The acting in this film is absolutely sublime. From Mary Tyler Moore’s Oscar nominated performance to Timothy Hutton’s absolutely stunning portrayal of Conrad all the acting in this film is phenomenal.
One of the things I enjoyed about most about Ordinary People are the subdued visuals. Very often a director, when doing a piece of suburban life, tries to making everything look picture perfect, like something out of a Tide commercial, so that it is easier to see the corruption that lies beneath this “perfect” exterior. However, Redford doesn’t use such simple tactics. He shows a real family living a real life. Most people would consider the family to be perfectly normal which makes their problems all the more effective. We see ourselves in this family, we don’t judge them (unless you’re Greg Beck who seems to hate this movie simply because Raging Bull lost to it) and we want to see how everything comes out in the end.
Something else worth mentioning is Timothy Hutton in his role as Conrad. I have seen many teenage performances before. Never before have I seen a role played with such layered complexity and genuine emotion as Hutton. His acting in this film is nothing short of stunning and he easily deserved the Academy Award he got for the role.
So, in the end Ordinary People is an amazingly crafted film. From the well conceived visuals to the stunning performance by Hutton this film is amazing. Redford would make many great films after Ordinary People but I believe this is far and away one of his absolute best.

A Written Review: The Godfather

The Godfather is quite easily one of the best films ever made. It certainly defined almost an entire genre of film and nearly created a sub-genre itself. From the dark script, moody lighting, fantastic cinematography, to the incredible acting, this film blow most other films out of the water.
One of the best parts of The Godfather is the stark realism used in the film. Up until this point, even in the famed gangster era of Universal Studios back in the 30’s and 20’s, the gangster genre was always somewhat on the mythical side as opposed to true realism. The Godfather took a true, gritty, and real look at the mob and what they do. The writing also was able to create real characters and interesting characters without having any of them turn into caricature.
Also, the performances in this film are iconic. Marlon Brando in the role of Don Vito Corleone was absolutely incredible. He won, and famously refused, the Oscar for best actor. However, even though Brando made the film, every single actor from Al Pacino to Diane Keaton did an incredible job and played their various parts to perfection.
The cinematography in this film was also amazing. This was one of the first films of the time that made the camera almost a character itself. This also helped the lighting enormously, which once again helped tell the story.
This film is going to go down in history as one of the best films ever made. It’s incredible acting, wonderful cinematography, and amazing technical prowess helped put this film in its place as one of the greatest films ever made.

A Written Review: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was a very good film. It had some excellent writing, good acting, and all around good cinematography. However, the film’s main focus isn’t on any of these more technical aspects. The main defining feature is, of course, the way the film deals with the issue of racism. While this film’s accomplishments in the area of racism are still dwarfed by its predecessor, To Kill A Mocking Bird, it still managed to strike a chord with middle America.
The acting in this film was very good. This was due to, in large part, to the all-star cast. From Spencer Tracy all the way to Katherine Hepburn, the casting in this film was top notch, reminiscent of 12 Angry Men in the way that every single actor played their part beautifully.
The script in this film was also quite good. While I do feel parts of the film could have been trimmed down, the screenplay felt real. In real life people tend to repeat things to drive the point home and while I do feel that some of the recap and rehashing of previous events by certain characters was excessive I do feel that almost all of the characters felt like real people to me.
All-in-all, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner was a good movie and close to a great movie. With performances by some of the top actors of the day and a hard hitting story, this film has continued to reverberate its message through its decades of release. While I wouldn’t call this one of my favorite films of all time, I will say that it’s one I’m glad I watched.

A Written Review: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

I seem to be one of the few people who still thoroughly enjoy the old style of the spaghetti western. Most people see them as boring and the characters as undeveloped. Some don’t see the point to them or just plain don’t get them. I on the other hand love them to death. Everything from A Few Dollars More to Once Upon A Time In The West, I just love this genre of film. The Good The Bad And The Ugly is my favorite of the genre. Everything from the absolutely breathtaking score by Ennio Morricone to the fantastic subdued acting, to the amazing cinematography makes this film a movie worth seeing.
Firstly, many people may criticize the admittedly shoddy dubbing job done in this film. What many might not know is that the term “spaghetti western” refers to a western film that was directed and produced by the Italians. These films were usually shot in southern Italy or Spain so as to make cost of producing them much lower. The film’s cast usually consisted of Italian or Spanish actors and usually an up-and-coming Hollywood star, such as Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, or an older Hollywood star, such as Henry Fonda in Once Upon A Time In The West. So, most of the actors were speaking Italian so what may look like a terrible ADR job is actually very good for the time period it was shot in (this was the same time as the famously terrible Godzilla films from Japan).
You cannot talk about The Good The Bad And The Ugly without talking about Ennio Morricone’s absolutely breathtaking score. The film’s iconic Il buono, Ill cattivo, Ill brutto would become one of the most iconic pieces of music associated with the old west. Whenever one thinks of a song they would want to dual to the death to, this would be it. Also, the final song L’estasi dell’oro (The Ecstasy of Gold) would be considered among Morricone’s best work.
One of my favorite parts of The Good The Bad And The Ugly is the acting. While many may find the acting cheesy and over the top or in the case of Eastwood, extremely subdued, I absolutely adored the acting. Eastwood’s amazing portrayal of The Man With No Name, a role he would later deconstruct in Unforgiven, is so iconic. The stoic unflinching, unmoving, and unchanging character is one of my favorites. This doesn’t make The Man With No Name a useless character though. He does go through situations that he hadn’t planned for, like the time he is captured by Tuco. However, it always seems that Blondie is a step ahead of everyone else. It is a great role, and one any actor could have had a lot of fun with.
Finally, the cinematography for this film was absolutely amazing. From the huge sweeping landscape shots to the up close and personal close-ups this film looks amazing. While many may not like the long takes on the actors face I really am impressed that an actor was able to hold that kind of expression for so long.
While I don’t think The Good The Bad And The Ugly is a perfect movie I still thoroughly enjoy it and it easily tops out my list of best spaghetti westerns and is in my top five westerns period. Everything from the music to the cinematography made this movie a joy to watch. I can understand why some don’t understand or like this style of western but there’s something about it these films that I just love. Maybe it’s every man’s desire to conquer an untamed land or to dual at high noon or maybe it’s just me but I adore these tales of the old west.

A Written Review: The Seven Samurai

The film Seven Samurai was an extremely important film historically. The base storyline for Seven Samurai would be reused in various films for years. Also, the techniques used inside of this film would be echoed in both Japanese and American cinema for years.
The story for Seven Samurai has been recycled and reused for years. Whether it’s the western adaptation The Magnificent Seven or the animated film A Bug’s Life, Seven Samurai has been the inspiration for many films. The story of the few standing up for the many and finding hidden strength inside themselves to do it, has resonated in the human spirit for hundreds of years and Akira Kurosawa was one of the first to tap into that with Seven Samurai.
Another, major contribution that Kurosawa gave to film was that of the techniques used in Seven Samurai. Using things such as a large ensemble cast with mini story arches within the main arch and many expansive sets were executed so well inside of this film.
The Seven Samurai is one of the most influential films ever made (just look at almost any list of influential films by any major director within the past half a century). From the magnificent story to the perfected techniques this film deserves as one of the best in history.