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-Critically (and I imagine otherwise as well) Hot Tub Time Machine has been drawing comparisons to last years The Hangover and for good reason. Both films cater to the same demographic (anyone who enjoys their comedies anchored on the ridiculous and overstated end of the spectrum), revolve around 4 men in an incomprehensible situation, and are aware they live or die based on how the consequences of said situations play out. Other then The Hangover not venturing into time travel territory (though not completely removed from the temporal concept) the main difference between these 2 films that try compensate for a paper thin plot by assaulting us with an endless stream of jokes is The Hangover leaves a moderately larger dent on our collective funny bone then HTTM. It's not that HTTM isn't funny it's just that it isn't very funny, most of the humor draws chuckles rather then the nonstop uncontrollable laughter promised by the trailer.
-Hot Tub Time Machine is one of the best titles I've seen in recent cinema history. It's very bold, regardless of your reaction to it it makes you ask yourself if only for a second; Do I want to see a film about a hot tub that also happens to be a time machine? Or is it a time machine that happens to be a hot tub? It's such a powerful title because it immediately divides people into two groups; those that answer yes and those that answer no. Which is important to note because it goes to show regardless whether you're interested in it or not it did if only for a second grab your attention, something many film titles can't do. Finally it lets you know exactly what you're getting into and while it's not necessarily a good thing to give away so much of the plot it's acceptable here because the film doesn't hinge on a mystery of any kind it simply want to make you laugh and if the title doesn't then you've been given fair warning.
-Roughly the first 20 minutes serve as exposition, offering us insight into the lives of 4 characters who lead to put it mildly lackluster lives. Adam is one of these characters; an insurance salesman who although disillusioned by getting dumped and not being able to make his nephew see what the world outside his computer is like is not unfamiliar territory for John Cusack. His nephew Jacob (Clarke Duke) serves as Steve Pink's commentary on younger generations preferring to live life through an electronic screen then through physical experience, and apparently by the look of his basement sunlight is Jacob's eternal enemy. Nick couldn't make it as a musician and now cleans the insides of dogs which I'm sure thrills him to no end, although Craig Robinson transports his sly dry wit into Nick giving us a very bitter and funny in the sad way man. Rob Corrdry throws himself way out there not giving heed to any sense of self preservation as Lou a hyper depressive teen in the body of a middle aged man. While it may seem trivial on the surface I really liked this beginning portion because while comedies don't necessarily require us to like the characters (and sometimes it's more fun to hate them) we are asked to understand their stations in life so that what follows makes as much a difference to us as it does the characters.
-After a near death experience Lou is in the hospital where Adam and Nick and eventually even Jack attempt to brighten his spirits (as well as their own) with a getaway trip to a ski lodge holding fond memories only to find it's a dump with as much life as the dirt it's built on. 4 depressed men, a broken down ski lodge, and a gloomy atmosphere call for massive amounts of alcohol but apparently they didn't read the instruction manual on their hot tub especially the part about spilled alcohol inducing time travel. Attempting to relive the fun they had in the 80's or in Jack's case the fun he never had the quartet go with the flow while trying not to ruin their futures. After a few drinks and 2 decades later (or before in this case) at some point you have to ask yourself why am I not taking advantage of the situation? That's exactly what they do except for Jack who although half the age of his peers is the only one focused on getting back to the proper time.
-The stage is set 4 men from the 00's are in the 80's!...but now what? According to HTTM showing how unfashionable and silly the time period was is the best course of action rather then taking advantage of such a ridiculous plot Steve Pink keeps us focused on a gag reel of the 80's masquerading as the 80's. While the bulk of the film takes place in a ski lodge the imagination and humor level isn't too far off from resembling a barren wasteland. A few of the countless jokes most notably Crispin Glover's turn as a supposedly soon to be one armed bellhop offers fresh humor and a taste of how funny time management can be but at the same time illuminate how much better HTTM could have been. Like with all movies including a time controlling hot tub each character needs to use the opportunity given to right past wrongs with hilarious results in some cases and not so much in others which brings me to my next sticking point. While considerable time has been invested in making the audience see and sympathize with the cast, very little time if any is given to let the consequences play out and breathe, the third act hurries together a conclusion that assumes death is at hand for the filmmakers if audience expectations aren't met!
-HTTM is worth seeing if only to satisfy your curiosity about what such a title could contain but be warned those expecting stomach pain inducing humor will leave disappointed. There are some big laughs and most of the jokes are in line with the time travel motif it's just that most of it is very lazy. Take leg warmers, lack of email access, knowledge of future events and set for frappe and what you regurgitate won't be too far off what you find in HTTM. John Cusack collaborates again with Steve Pink although the results are confusing because Cusack clearly understands his character and Pink clearly knows what we remember about the 80's but watching HTTM you'd think Cusack never argued his convictions as strongly as he did in High Fidelity nor would you know Pink is over 20.
-Most people take the luxury of there time on Earth for granted, because it's inherently more difficult to appreciate what's common rather than what isn't. We know the roses are there and we probably have a good idea of what they smell like but how often do we take the time to stop and find out for ourselves rather then rely on any preconceived notions? The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is a love letter to those who contemplate the meaning of life and the roles of others within ours only to show how the latter universally defines the former.
-David Fincher one of the greatest living directors is known mostly for having a slick, efficient style that showcases both technical and lavish flourishes similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock goes in what initially appears to be the opposite direction with this latest effort. All of his films up until now while differing wildly in content have in common a pessimistic outlook on life stemming from a dark heart. This is undoubtedly not a coincidence, David Fincher uses the movie watching experience as an outlet to showoff extreme examples of reality's cruel truths that factory sealed and bubble wrapped feel good vehicles that are all to common in Hollywood try so hard to make us forget until the credits roll.
It revolves around the life of a man who is born with the body of an old man and physically ages backwards, nearly the entire movie is devoted to showing the audience life through his point of view. If such a fantastical premise no one can empathize with Benjamin's condition however, we can sympathize with his internalized feelings
Love is universal, a fairy tale romance married with the ugliness reality often surprises us with.
-There are a smattering of themes packed in but primarily this is a film about death or more specifically it revels in the hardships of life through the eyes of a man for whom age is in one form or another a life long prison. The lives of Benjamin and Daisy are intertwined from the time they meet till death but it isn't until they "meet in the middle" are they truly right for each other. The time they share together as a happy couple is fleeting due to the difference in aging and the consequences that arise from Benjamin's case. This in turn makes the time they do share that much more important and as they come to realize this everything falls into place accordingly though not for the betterment of there lives.
-It's very easy to dismiss Benjamin as an uninteresting character with no personal depth but to make this claim is an oversimplification. So many experiences (mostly bad) and all he can do is quietly soak it all in and process it internally because all he wants is what everyone wants; to be with the person he loves and experience what life has to offer in the meantime.
-In his signature style Fincher (my favorite director) delivers a long tale of epic scope encompassed in a gritty, melon colic decaying flavor. This time however, he injects enough fantasy, whimsy, love, and overall positiveness to make it stand out like a thorn compared to his previous work as well making the sad moments that much more significant.
-Curious will inevitably draw comparisons to Forrest Gump considering Eric Roth wrote the screenplay for both and there's just enough Forrest in Benjamin to be faintly recognizable but it benefits instead of impeding on it. Also I have to give Roth more respect for being able to so eloquently adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story into modern times without losing any of the poignancy or vision his story has.
-I liked how Fincher grounded this tale by reminding the audience of hurricane katrina every so often so that his sprawling epic doesn't ever lift itself too high to be touched by Fincher's obvious unflattering intentions.
-Visually it's perfect. Fincher's unique dark and rotting art style is apparent throughout the film but at the same time there is so much detail from the scenery to the time periods shown to Benjamin's body and facial morphs, it's a technical masterpiece.
-A few clever touches I noticed; The backwards ticking clock showed at the beginning and end representing Benjamins life, the hummingbird's 2 appearances represent learning from your past, and the music progressed with the times throughout Benjamin's life.
-the running gag of a man struck by lightning 7 times was one of the best parts of the film. While the short scenes were funny enough they were also significant echoing Benjamin's mother's lesson: "You never know what's coming for you" (unless you're watching a movie you've already seen.)
-The cast couldn't have done a better job. Pitt really makes for a person who takes in the lessons and experiences the people he meets teaches him never having to try selling his performance and instead makes it natural. Everyone in the supporting cast does an equally wonderful job as well most notably Cate Blanchett, Taraji P.Henson, and Jared Harris.
-This is a memorable period piece because it embraces the expansive time line it inhabits. A few scenes may have not been as engaging as others but overall an ambitious idea depicting Fincher's signature themes organically. Not the least of which is the last scene where he pulls at the heartstrings and we're happy to be instruments used in this orchestra of emotions.
-This is what you get when you combine an ambitious director with an even more ambitious script, Paul Thomas Anderson is at his best yet continuing to show characters who exist to be watched in their natural environment, mastering it for our entertainment or in this case horror. I didn't know what to expect going in but now that I've seen it I'm still left with a sense of awe thanks to the absolitely abosorbing performance of Daniel Day-Lewis which is one of the best I've ever seen. Because of him There will Be Blood is both an intimate meditation on man's greed and an epic struggle between opposing forces vieing for total control.
-The plot starts out simple enough; a man goes into the oil drilling business and wants to be rich but as the film progresses the story, characters, and scope of everything matures like a cub into full grown lion before our eyes. Daniel Plainview ( Daniel Day-Lewis) by chance assumes control of a well off oil company, a son whom he uses to perpetuate his wealth, and a tip on where to find more oil so it seems destiny is more then willing to line his pockets. At first I thought Daniel Plainview was a good man with some inner demons because he like all manipulators is convincing in the diabolical sense he even seems to have a genuine love for his son, however shortly after he meets Eli for the first time it becomes clear this is a man who wants money and no one is going to get in his way. Everything else is just a facade to hide his true nature and further his only goal because above all else TWBB is a character study into a man who doesn't know the meaning of enough or too much, someone whom I assume the Bible would agree personifies the deadly sin of greed. I suspect Daniel Plainview and Gordon Gekko would be great drinking buddies.
-At one point Daniel promises to let Eli the priest of the chruch of the third revelation bless the first drilling yet when the moment arrives he gives the honor to his younger sister as an unspoken but blatent display of power and warning to Eli that he should tread lightly. This is where the cold war first sparks up and as the story progresses so do the stakes and heat of their conflicts. Daniel's only goal in life is to get rich and this new town he settles in is nothing more then a stepping stone on his way but buried underneath his greed he's very insecure evidenced by Daniel showing off his power every chance he gets. He doesn't just want money because it's a symbol of power and happiness to him he wants everyone to see how wealthy he is. While Daniel exploits the locals for his own financial gain Eli does the same to Daniel though under the guise of church donations.
-Eli is just as ruthless as Daniel however, he sees religion as the ultimate form of control and even so Eli is a true believer in a higher power which is what fuels the mostly bloodless conflict because Daniel believes in nothing but himself he doesn't think God or anyone else will be of use to him and see's Eli's faith as a critical weakness of character and conviction. A cursory glance at TWBB makes one believe the central theme is greed and desire for control and while that's certainly true a deeper look yeilds a more subtle and grandiose conflict between man and religion. TWBB depicts the 2 as enemies not companions and it's up to the viwer to sort out who's right or wrong.
-Something I noticed early on was how the music is so appropriately haunting and overpowering, I loved the orchestral score it simply fit right and elevated the mood but as imposing as the score there's a tight restraint as to not upstage the content of what's happening. Johnny Greenwood picks the perfect sound to evoke the same feeling the barren yet beautiful visuals from cinematographer Robert Elswit so. There isn't a moment in it's 158 minutes that the audio and visuals are out of sync.
-DDL's performance was simply amazing and no one else could have done it as well, I've always been a big fan but this is his him at his finest acting doesn't get much better then this. Such a story demands a commanding, over powering charisma who doesn't need to do so much as lift a finger to project an aura of a unimaginable evil beneath the surface, DDL chose correctly in playing Daniel as a monster in human skin. Paul Dano also put on a noteworthy performance and provides as a formidable opponent to the indomitable Daniel Plainview I almost expected a boxing ring to drop in any second. Eli isn't nearly the tryant Daniel is but he stands his ground and schemes to further his goal in a way that suggests he and Daniel think alike.
-Some have criticized ending for not making sensebut to those viewers I say the ending is the culmination of Daniel's efforts to achieve his goal in an appropriate fashion fitting the intensity of his character. Several times throughout the movie he could have been more considerate and yet his own hyper competitive compulsion forced him to not just ignore the kindness of others but go out of his way to dominate and to beat his chest and claim his superiority. Usually a character ignoring the tell tale signs of imminent defeat lead to exactly that but instead Daniel seemingly succeeds and gains everything he ever wanted; riches, and yet there's something unexplainable missing.
-TWBB burdens itself with a lot but instead of crumbling under the weight of it's own vision it focuses the grandiose scope of the story on Plainview. The film was either too entertaining for me to notice or it wasn't too slowly paced as I've heard it was no scene felt like it overstayed it's welcome and I appreciate a director who can make a grand tale not feel heavy handed. There is some ambiguity like why Daniel's son started the fire, why Daniel wasn't more suspicious of a certain character, and of course the abruptness of the final scene but all of this serves to enhance the movie by being left unanswered there is no clear cut ending to the story of a man who is not a man but greed incarnate. Simply put this is what happens when a great story telling meets great acting I have no complaints here.
-Don't let the title fool you while it is the latest Terminator there's no screwing around with the chronological order, there is no singular futuristic threat, there is no tongue in cheek humor. In the place of all that is humanity's deteriorating struggle against an army of machines bringing with it all the impressive set piece battles and effects a war epic with robots is capable of it's too bad most of the humans are upstaged by such displays and the lack of script cohesion runs rampant throughout.
-John connor is finally realized on film as an adult played by the always intense Christian Bale he's not yet the commander he's somehow destined to be but in a high enough position to have a say in how things are done, but not over General Ashdown played by Michael Ironside. The two have a conflict of interest, Connor's willing to save the human captives with an ulterior motive of finding his father while Ashdown having found a way to potentially end the war is not wiling to let compassion for a few get in the way of saving everyone else. This tension between the two who have different ways of achieving the same goal could have been expanded upon giving a more human touch to a film too absorbed in it's action sequences it forgets to show humans can be their own worst enemy.
-I can understand when you're being hunted everyday by homicidal robots and most of your race is already dead you won't be in the greatest of moods but even so, Bale's yelling is a bit too relentless he treats everyone as if they're deaf the word over acting comes to mind. On the other hand Sam worthington delivers as a man trying to atone for his past as the only cyborg in the film he's infinitely more human then any fully fleshed character, having a ribcage of metal and not knowing who you are isn't easy.
-Moon Bloodgood is certainly no Linda Hamilton but she does have the humane characteristic that cements her as a martyr for what she believes in and she doesn't have to yell constantly, Christian Bale I hope you're taking notes. Between watching a literally faceless robot vaporize random humans and a motorcycle be swung into a Skynet ship Marcus and Connor get closer to each other (again literally) and somehow instead of feeling cheated out of a true climax the two team up against what is a nod to what made the previous Terminator films successful and the film's sense of purpose is finally solidified (yes again literally) on screen.
-McG understands lots of really cool action scenes involving impossible to defeat robots being defeated satisfies those who are looking for something to get the pulse pounding and Sam Worthington saves the balancing act from tipping over since metal is denser then flesh. However a sequel trying too hard to pay homage to it's predecessors and not stand on the legs of it's own writing does nothing to advance the Terminator mythology beyond showing us an alternate universe where the color saturation is as dead as most of the human population.
-Dreams are subjective realities which so often at the time seem like the real thing we don't question the reality we're presented with, it's only after waking up do we realize our perception was flawed. Lucid dreaming however, is the ability to identify when in a dream even being able to control what occurs and it's this ability Christopher Nolan seems to be most interested in playing with in Inception. Nolan started on the script while filming Memento, a brain twister in it's own right and seeing the finished product 9 years later reinforces my belief he used his previous films as practice for what is one of the most ambitious works ever filmed. The nature of reality is tricky to explain or prove definitively but you know what it is much like oxygen, but what if a lucid dream simulated reality and reality felt dream like? Christopher Nolan is a master puppeteer when it comes to making the audience define reality from fantasy all the while dropping enough hints for us to figure it out and not leaving us in the dark as long as we pay attention not letting Inception's seemingly straight forward plot wash over us as so many modern movies let us get away with.
-Dom Cobb played by Leonardo Dicaprio is the most skilled extractor in the business, that's what you call someone who with the aid of technology is able to steal any valuable idea one might have while sleeping. When attempting to extract from rich businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) he's countered with a proposal to do the opposite, Inception; the insertion of an idea into one's head for as yet unknown benefits. Saito dangles the possibility of Dom being able to return to his 2 kids in the U.S and settle the fate of his wife (Marion Cottilard) without fearing criminal punishment for as yet unknown crimes in front of him and having done it once before accepts the proposal before Saito says "Assemble your team". Which is exactly what he does and how we're introduced to Arthur played by Joseph Gorden-Levitt in his most impressive role to date Arthur is an extractor too and in many ways similar to Cobb. Next is Eames (Tom Hardy) a forger capable of impersonating in dreams, then Yusuf (Dileep Rao) a chemist who concocts the sedatives needed to keep everyone asleep long enough to pull off the heist. Araidne (Ellen Page) a prodigy architect capable of designing elaborate pathways in the mind is the final recruit she's introduced by Michael Caine who plays Cobb's father in-law Miles who also taught Cobb a former architect himself.
-With the team introduced in typical heist movie fashion they plot against the target of inception Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy.) Along the way Cobb teaches Ariadne the ins and outs of dream manipulation which acts as a brilliant tutorial device for her as well as the audience giving both a clear understanding of the 3 levels of dreaming. First the dream, then a dream within a dream, and finally a dream within a dream within a dream all of which would be impossible to display without confusion especially when juxtaposed to reality had it not been for Nolan's clever rules and logic keeping all the layers plausible without alienating the attentive viewer. Most impressive of which is the rule of time moving progressively slower the deeper into a dream which you go so with 3 levels of dreaming and reality there are effectively 4 clocks simultaneously counting down adding dramatically to the tension felt each step of the way.
-At one point an entire city folds in on itself in perfect symmetry, a gravity defying hallway fight ensues as if the combatants were swimming, and a van takes an hour to fall off a bridge all these moments rank among the most impressively choreographed action scenes ever filmed.
-Inception has many influences from the greatest sci fi's such as The Matrix, Dark City, and Blade Runner to Nolan's own Memento and The Dark Knight, but Shutter Island seems to be the most obvious since both films have Dicaprio successfully playing a burdened protagonist who'd feel at home in any noir, play with his perspective, and feature strained relationships with his wife.
-The true genius of inception is like it's 3 levels it has 3 levels of comprehension every engaged audience member must go through. First because of Nolan framing the big picture in a fairly straight forward manner the actively engaged viewer may lose sight of many fine details but retain the grasp of the plot, then upon further inspection of those finer points beyond the general plot even the most perceptive viewer will reconsider their position on several plot points. And finally in retrospect to the general plot, the carefully laid out trail of breadcrumb details ambiguously leading to multiple conclusions, and fusing them to adhere to the rules Inception sets up the reconsidered notions can be concluded upon or be put under even further scrutiny.
-The mental defenses Fischer projects act as the catalyst for nearly all of the gunfire, explosions, and chases making Inception one of the most entertaining action movies I've ever seen at face value. Because of how well edited the action is the personal stake we the audience tie to the conflict is never cut; we're always interested because we know what failure would mean for the team.
-Hanz Zimmer's score relentlessly adds to the tension and intensity of the time needed to pull off the inception and as a clever nod to Nolan's universe Zimmer constructed a score to reflect the slowing down of time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVkQ0C4qDvM
-Inception like 2001: A space Odyssey is about ideas and scope more then the characters but unlike 2001 We're given with at least 1 richly developed lead who has enough sullen looks and emotional complexity to make Orsen Welles proud. Leonardo Dicaprio in one of his best roles in an already admirable career displays once again all the negative emotion a man can carry with him. Ultimately however, it's Nolan's script which allows Cobb to drop one or two details at a time along the entire way that by the climax his character arc is revealed to have more heart and significance then the entirety of casts in many other films. The supporting cast isn't entirely developed but they don't need to be this is Cobb's story the other players are meant to act as functions within the scheme of the inception and even with that Ellen Page manages to wring every last drop of concern from her character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt takes the mostly silent strong approach with just enough playfulness to come off as a likable and essential second in command, Ken Watanabe in contrast to his villainous role in Nolan's Batman Begins is someone who we grow to care for and displays a wide range of feelings of authority mostly wisdom alongside Michael Caine. Dileep Rao displays an archetypal obsessiveness for knowledge men in fields of knowledge often have and yet has a likable warmth to him, and Marion Cotillard is incredible displaying many different emotions often switching them at a moments notice never missing a beat in dialogue.
-In a time where originality is sorely lacking in movies evidenced by endless sequels, remakes, and spin offs it's nice to see something as creatively original as Inception and even nicer to see how such a multilayer patchwork of reality and fantasy rewards multiple viewings as well as incisive analysis giving a viewers a point to go through it again beyond sheer entertainment value. Also unlike films like Mulholland dr. Inception isn't confusing for the sake of artistry or atmosphere it's not really confusing at all on the surface but it's the richly layered details within details which leave audiences in heated discussions long after the credits roll making us ponder over every scene in multiple perspectives for better or worse. The labyrinthine metaphors beautifully litter every frame because while Inception is paced briskly we still have the architecture of how confusing the film could have been in the back of our minds.