Happy August 1!

*_*  Is it really and truly AUGUST?!

Life has been a bit overwhelming lately as I try to finish everything before leaving the country for most of September.  Yeah, I know … fool’s errand trying to finish it all, and shame on me for using what should be a wonderful trip as a big old excuse. 😛

Anyway, I apologize for the lapse in posting, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to review a few of the adventure-filled films I’ve viewed over the past few weeks.

  • Inception (2010)
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
  • A Perfect Getaway (2009)
  • Last House on the Left (2009)

Inception Takes Mission: Impossible behind Closed Eyelids

Inception is an exquisitely crafted film. Its effects are stunning yet don’t overshadow the underlying story.  It boasts excellent performances and a compelling plot that moves at a good pace. It deals with levels of reality in a complex enough way to satisfy those who want that intricacy, yet is not so difficult to follow that the average action-movie fan can’t enjoy it.

So, why isn’t it an A in my book?  Here, in my humble opinion, is why:

As I’ve mentioned on some threads, I have heard people compare this film to The Matrix (1999). The effects in Inception are noteworthy, as is its look at reality perhaps not being what we think it is. However, that’s where the comparison stops. At the foundation of The Matrix is an epic and meaningful mythology that is not present in Inception, which is basically Mission: Impossible for sleep-invaders. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a whole lot of fun to watch. But it’s no Matrix.

The situations in Inception are based on the premise that there are people who can infiltrate the dreams of others to gain their secrets. Counter-espionage in the form of dream-defense trainers has cropped up to help the rich and powerful to defend themselves against such attacks. But how does one keep all the players straight and know who he or she is really interacting with — in real life or in one’s dreams?  The cast is led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard, and peppered with appearances by other actors we know and love. They all play their roles superbly. But in both the situations and characters, there is a level of “control” that bridles the full-on weirdness that often defines dreams.  I chalked this up to the fact that the dreams we see on screen are designed by an architect and meant to be controllable by those invading the target’s psyche. But I have heard more  than one person say that they seem tame and mundane … for dreams.

The final problem, for me, was the emphasis and time spent on the “mystery of Cobb” — some super-built-up psychological dilemma, how it had happened, what it has to do with his deceased wife, and how if affects what he can and cannot do now. It is too drawn out and somewhat melodramatic, culminating in the final “happy ending” of the film. Though I adore both DiCaprio and Cotillard, they began to annoy me in this exchange, and I felt like that really detracted from the main plot. This subplot was vital for bringing in some deeper ideas about realities, perception, and the very idea of what an “inception” is — I just wish it was not quite so heavy-handed.

This film is all about planting an idea, and it did that to me — what it got me thinking about is other films that explore the world beyond consciousness or levels of reality. If this topic fascinates you as much as it does me, check out these films:  Altered States (1980), Dreamscape (1984), eXistenZ (1999), The Thirteenth Floor (1999), Open Your Eyes (1997)/Vanilla Sky (2001).  If you know of others, please chime in!


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The latest incarnation of this story, based on the famous Goethe poem, is … well, far from the original tale and its intent. It’s really more of an adaptation of Disney’s short, which was itself based on the poem, in the film Fantasia.

Mickey Mouse.  Enough said.

Despite this, it’s a fun movie!  It is kid-friendly and appropriate for the whole family, yet has some lines and situations that adults will understand for their covert more-mature humor. In other words, you won’t be bored when you take the kids to see it. The effects are cool in the vein of Harry Potter wizardry, and the story is interesting enough, even if it has little to do with what it’s named for.  My favorite effect has to be the steel eagle.

Best of all, the role of Blake is the most amiable one I’ve seen Nicolas Cage in for some time. Cage harnessed the perfect mixture of his signature strangeness and a sardonic amusement masking a deeper soulful pain, to play this wizard with an important purpose — and to make him likable. The rest of the cast works well also — Jay Baruchel is a lovable geek, Alfred Molina is a menacing villain, and Alice Krige is a wonderfully evil Morgana.

It’s some summer fun until the next Harry Potter installment comes along.


A Perfect Getaway Pretty Much Gets Away with It All

Expecting some run-of-the-mill Cape Fear-knockoff thriller, I was surprised at how much I liked this film. In addition to a couple of pretty good twists on the standard psycho-killer story, the likely reason is the use of talent in this film.

At first, I was surprised at and leery about the casting. But, as the roles turned inside out, I ended up coming to the conclusion that the choices were genius. Without giving too much away, Steve Zahn and Mila Jovovich stretch their acting muscles. Tim Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez offer just the right amount of stereotyping and then flip their roles on their heads as well. It all turns into a pretty satisfying experience from what I expected would be a cliche-fest.

And even if you don’t like the story, there is the scenery. I guarantee that it will make you want to go to Hawai’i, whether you have been there before or now.


Last House on the Left Remake Has Merit

Movie violence is not for everyone, and this is a film that some people would not touch with a ten-foot pole. But if you are someone who likes movies like, oh, The Glass House (2001) and Hard Candy (2005), this may be one to check out. As those who read my blog know, I’m not much for remakes. But this is one that does stand on its own two feet and presents an interesting story of fierce family protection. Plus there are really gory scenes for the slasher horror fans. My favorite is the finale. Sizzle, sizzle, pop!

For me, the draw of this film is the “bad guys” getting their just desserts. But, as in Hard Candy, there is the subtle question about whether exacting that revenge turns the “good guys” into something else … something closer to the evil.

I have to give a big shout-out to Tony Goldwyn, whom I have rarely liked in roles — mostly because he often plays such morally reprehensible characters. I find myself shouting “Weasle!” at the screen the minute I see this poor, pigeonholed actor. But his role here was a sort of redemption, I thought.  My hero!


Have fun at the movies!