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Rating History

Inception (2010)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

In Plato's The Republic, philosopher Socrates describes his famous allegory of the cave. A man awakens from a stupor in which he believes some images on a cave in front of him are his reality. A bright light leads him to wander out of a cave and there he finds a true reality. But what if that true reality was simply a vehicle to lead that man to another cave, which led him to another reality, and to another cave, and so on. What if these layers of false caves and true realities merged until the man could no longer distinguish between the two. And what if the cave was not as false as it once seemed, and what if reality was not as true as it appeared? This the scenario in which Christopher Nolan, auteur of The Dark Knight and Memento, imagines for us in his sprawling, epic blockbuster masterpiece. To simply describe my sentiments of Inception, Willie Waffle (real name) of simply stated: "This is what movies can be like if you try."

Despite the marketing flurry sweeping the world for Inception's release this week, its story remains an enigma. What exactly is about, so many people have asked? Now having experienced the two and half hour rollercoaster ride, it's hard to describe. I could say it's one of those last jobs flicks where Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio), an experienced dream thief, assembles a team to commit the ultimate corporate act of mischief. His team, rather than extracting an idea from a rival, but instead implant one. It's also one man's struggles to overcome his demons and achieve equilibrium in his life. It's also an allegory and analysis of the relationship between dreams and reality. Whatever it is, it will blow your mind.

Much like 1999's classic The Matrix, Inception will present a world that will make you forever question the world you live in as well as deeper explore whatever dreams you may have. Usually, said dreams are throwaways moments that frequent us while we sleep at night. But is something more important embedded in those dreams? And what of ideas, of our inspirations - where do those stem from? Inception completely deconstructs metaphysics and subsciousness before our eyes, leaving the viewer agape at what unfolds. And this is all happening in a $160+ million sci-fi actioner? And a major studio, Warner Brothers, backed this and gave Christopher Nolan free reign?

I sincerely hope America and the world embraces this film as they did The Dark Knight two years ago. This is a monumental work that will push Hollywood to make more films like it - where care went into every frame, where story is indeed king. Inception is a film that reminds us why we go to the movies, why storytelling has been around since mankind's beginning. It is smart, complex, moving, heartbreaking, mind-blowing, mind-numbing, unsettling, exhilarating, wholly original, and devilishly intricate. It is a film all directors should aspire to make, screenwriters to write, and producers finance. If all moviegoers see this film for what it really is, it may well incite a cinematic revolution. We need more movies like this. Thank you Christopher Nolan for doing what so many other filmmakers fail to, care. Mr. Dicaprio, Mr. Gordon-Levitt, and Ms. Page all deserve Oscar nominations. Mr. Nolan deserves a Best Picture nomination finally, and a win for his screenplay. Technically speaking, Inception is awe-inspiring: degrading cities, stunning zero gravity action sequences, and top lensing by Mr. Wally Pfister. Inception is a masterpiece of the highest order. See it, now.

Grade: A+


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

If you somehow aren't aware, Eclipse is the third chapter of the Twilight franchise. It tells the now-familiar story of a girl endowed with the personality of a mop, Bella Swan, who must overcome the difficulties inherent in deciding to marry a P90X success story, Jacob, or the vitilgo-inflicted vampire, Edward, whose face must have fallen into a bucket of glitter in all three movies so far. Like the last two films, Eclipse half-asses its way through an illogical narrative, which mostly involves seemingly endless, circular conversations. Again like the last two films, Bella pouts around for two hours as she narrates: "Well Jacob def has the better body, but Edward he's sweet, and I love glitter, and he's shiny-" Oh my god, just pick one! In the end, it somehow baits teenage girls and even middle aged women back to the theater to feast their eyes on abs, horrific acting, and hamfisted dialogue. All three films are exactly the same and every scene within those film plays out as follows:

1. Character A walks up to Character B. They begin having a throwaway conversation about the weather, boys, etc.
2. Character B then suddenly veers the dialogue into a throwaway monologue about how he or she wish his/her life was different and even though it's really not so bad, Character B fails to realize this and continues to complain like a petulant child. Most of these Character Bs are vampires. Considering these vampires are at least several hundred years old, you would assume they would be much more mature, wise, and omniscient, but sadly this is not the case.
3. Character A responds with a simple, "Oh," a stunned gaze, apologizes, and walks away.

Whatever scenes don't follow this structure aren't all that much better. Instead, we get wonderfully awkward scenes involving Edward, Jacob, and Bella camping featuring some of the worst acting and dialogue put on screen. Seriously, the scene is so bad that I pitied the poor folks at Eastman-Kodak who are paid to process the film for the Twilight films. The fact that three times now (and twice more) they have introduced these cinematic travesties to the world, knowing full well they could stop them from coming into existence, and therefore making Earth a better place to live . Alas, they must save face and continue on with aiding some of the most inane filmmaking from debuting on the silver screen and inexplicably accumulating $300 million at the box office. At least it's not in 3D.

The aforementioned scene marks the apex of stupidity for a franchise that has redefined the word stupid. Indeed, it features a shirtless Jacob cuddling poor Bella, shivering from the cold outside, as Edward watches in jealousy. Edward and Jacob engage in one of the most bizarre exchanges that of course turns into Edward whining about how Bella does not listen to him. Since it's clear no thought had gone into the production, the next morning Bella awakens next to Jacob, and then goes out and stays outside in the still freezing cold with nary a rag of a hoodie and thin jeans on, now somehow averse to the weather. She discusses with Edward their recent engagement, which Jacob overhears. Being the jacked-up pansy that he is, he runs away crying. Bella follows and goes to comfort him. One thing leads to another, and she is making out with Jacob in front of her fiancee. She finishes, goes back to Edward, and he's shrugs the whole incident off. Indeed, this is the dumbest ensemble celluloid has ever encountered.

I want to spend just a moment discussing the character of Jacob, who has now become one of the most loathsome silver screen figures in recent memory. Jacob's mission throughout the film is to convince Bella that she really does love him. He believes she loves him, but that Bella "just doesn't know it yet." If that isn't THE slogan for all stalkers / serial rapists out there, I think we now have a figure for all those freaks to look up to. But of course, Jacob is the one all the girls are swooning for. After all, as he himself notes, he is hotter than Edward.

Eclipse's plot, when it is not bemoaning the petty issues of all the characters, is about the evil vampire Victoria, evil only for her red hair I suppose, who is raising an army of vampires to...I'm not entirely sure about that. This army, the Cullens note, are capable of taking on and defeating the US military. How many vampires make up this army, you may ask? According to the poor production values, only about fifteen or twenty. Ok Summit Entertainment, now I know the war in Afghanistan is now our longest combat operation, but I believe they are fully capable of taking on a dozen and a half moronic track stars with fangs. After the battle is over, everyone goes back to whining again. Bella somehow graduates even though all she does in high school is sit in the cafeteria and pout, or show up with Edward and immediately leave with Jacob on his motorcycle.

Some may believe my review is not a fair read because I am a male, and I wouldn't understand why young girls who become obsessed with this material. It's the same way with guys loving action movies that girls do not (though The A-Team did not fare very well here). There's a gender disparity, I get it. But this is truly awful stuff. I pity the doting teenage girl audiences for all these movies. It's clear as day that Summit could care less about crafting a quality film for the throngs who pay to see shit like New Moon six times. Again, Melissa Rosenberg, a talented, Emmy-winning screenwriter phones it in - crafting dialogue even Uwe Boll would puke upon sight of. From the poor CGI to the monotonous acting, this is not a Hollywood production. Throughout, it reminded me of those plays you had to be a part in first grade. Years later, your relatives would subject you to watching them and remark on how cute you were, standing at the top of the stage, stumbling over your lines while being generally disinterested in the whole thing. The play was a sham, but it was saved by the factor that all participants were just six. Eclipse is like that, but far worse because this a $70 million film that was supposedly made by professionals. It's especially clear from Kristen Stewart's stiff line reading and the apathy poured out by the rest of the above-the-line talent that this project meant nothing to them. And that's truly unfortunate, considering just how many people excite themselves over these nonsensical productions.

Grade: F


Crazy Heart
Crazy Heart (2009)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The musical biopic has seem to become a staple in Hollywood for an end-of-the year, awards-push release. In the past few years we've seen movies like Ray, Walk the Line, I'm Not There, and the hilarious satire Walk Hard. While those films highlight the rise, fall, and rise again of the musician focused on, Crazy Heart falls more in line with The Wrestler. It highlights the once glorious life of a now washed-up performer whose life of excess has finally caught up with him.

It's standard fare, but the phenomenal acting elevates the material. Where Mickey Rourke astounded audiences with a never-before seen range in The Wrestler, Crazy Heart shows Jeff Bridges in top form battling his demon of alcoholism and simultaneously massaging his bruised ego. If for no other reason, this film should be seen merely for Mr. Bridges - who has been snubbed 5 times for Best Actor - finally show why he's been deserving all along.

Crazy Heart is about the country singer Bad Blake, a fictional musician, who plays in bowling alleys and small, local clubs rather than big stadiums and arenas like in years past. He's been surpassed by his protege Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell in a bit role) and scraps along to try and reclaim his throne. However, his addiction to whiskey isn't helping and he can't even make it through a show without having to leave the stage to puke.

Bad Blake is a womanizer and charmer and he befriends a reporter Jean Craddock (a revelatory Maggie Gyllenhaal) and forms a friendship and soon relationship with her. They rendezvous at some of his shows and he starts coming over to her house to talk among other things. He eventually meets her 4-year-old son Buddy, who he soon becomes a bit of a father figure to.

Just when it seems Bad has a reason to keep going, it all collapses and Mr. Blake must put the pieces back together. Among various other plot points, he tries to reconnect with his lost son and revamp his music career with new music. The plot is straightforward and the audience member can easily tell where everything's going. But that's not the point. This film is meant to be a showpiece for Mr. Bridges.

Usually looked over in favors of the Robert De Niros or Jack Nicholsons of the world, Mr. Bridges shows complete command over Bad Blake. While Bad is, as expected Bad, and a bit of a loser, Mr. Bridges infuses him with plenty of charisma as well as a thin layer of vulnerability. Even with a smile across his face as he plays for his small audiences, Mr. Bridges manages to reveal the hurt feelings within - the feelings of loss and suffering to see his once successful career washed away. Moreover, Bad Blake is a character who has made all sorts of mistakes and yet, for most of the film, seems to ignore them. Amazingly, the audience never stops caring or rooting for him. For all his excess and egomania, Mr. Bridges grounds Bad Blake with a unremitting charm.

Ms. Gyllenhaal keeps up with Mr. Bridges beat-by-beat. Another lost soul of the role, Ms. Gyllenhaal erases the memory as the weak link in the otherwise perfect Dark Knight in forming a character who makes mistake after mistake with men and relationships. Like the film, she isn't that original, but Ms. Gyllenhall breathes life with her wide eyes and broken heart into an otherwise stale character.

If you can't stand watching the film though, the music will certainly keep you attentive. With a soundtrack by musician Ryan Bingham, Crazy Heart features some really amazing country music, especially the theme song: The Weary Kind. I've always been the kind that responds with, "Everything but country" when asked what music I like, but Crazy Heart, which has a nomination for Best Song at the Oscars, proves otherwise. The Weary Kind is a soulful piece that matches the vulnerability of our protagonist, Bad Blake.
It may be what you see every year, but Crazy Heart overcomes it story issues with commanding performances from Mr. Bridges and Ms. Gyllenhaal. Even if you show up and hate what you see, you'll at least like what you hear.

Grade: B+


A Prophet (Un prophete)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

If you have read up on A Prophet, praise is near unanimous. It's at a sterling 96% on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this. I checked out reviews on IMDB, and someone wrote it as a masterpiece that was a cross between "Goodfellas and The Shawshank Redemption." Well, I'll do away with these preconceived notions and misperceptions. It's not. The first thirty are masterful but then the film begins to sag. A Prophet is a very good, very well-made film that has unfortunate pacing and confounding story issues that pull it back from greatness. Furthermore, it's far too art house to be declared among the ranks of those mainstream classics. If you decide to go to your local art-house cinema and see it, prepare yourself for a violent, entertaining, but imperfect foreign film.

At first glance, the story of A Prophet certainly appears to a hybrid of Goodfellas and The Shawshank Redemption: a prisoner rises through the ranks of a mob. However, A Prophet makes itself hard to define. It is a moving story of the human condition a la Andy. Additionally, our protagonist's rise through the ranks is far too subtly told to compare with Goodfellas. We never hear, "All my life I wanted to be a gangster." Instead, Jacques Audiard, the director, crafts a character study, some roaring entertainment, and a piece of social realism into one film.

The story begins with our protagonist Malik El Djebana sentenced to six years in jail for assaulting a police officer. His identity confounds the well-defined prison. He is Corsican but of Arab descent. At first Malik is rejected from the two main factions of the prison, the Corsican Mob and the Arabs, because he does not belong to either. However, Malik soon finds his heritage advantageous as he straddles both groups in his attempt to control both. When Luciani, head of the Corsican mob, needs an anonymous prisoner to kill a new inmate, he picks Malik and Malik's ascent begins. The beginning thirty minutes featuring Malik growing accustomed to prison life and then forced to kill serve as some of the best, tensest filmmaking of the past year. The story seems to be on the trajectory of a prison-set There Will Be Blood. Audiard finds a perfect balance in depicting the horrors of prison told in a tight, suspensful yarn. Unfortunately after this point, Audiard slightly loses focus of what he wants the film to be. The film begins to wane through its two and a half hour running time.

Audiard assumes the audience can completely understand and simply assume the intricate relations between the gangs, their outside dealings, and all that Malik is balancing from running errands for the Corscians. Malik also starts and operates his own drug business, whilst taking care of his dying friend. It simply becomes too much to try and understand and Audiard loses the audience a bit. Possibly because the film is long enough, Audiard decided it wasn't necessary to include scenes that better highlighted all the relations. This compares with a typical Guy Ritche film, however, at least Richie does explain the complex relations and dealings for the audience, even if it goes by too quickly at times. Or maybe I and Ben are just inferior viewers.

Regardless, A Prophet is some amazing filmmaking that deserved its Academy Award nomination. Tahar Rahim shines as Malik and completely inhabits the role much like Daniel Day-Lewis dominated the screen in There Will Be Blood. A Prophet simply could not stand on its own two feet without the revelatory acting of Rahim. Although some may find some of the violence gratuitousness, especially in the beginning murder sequence, Audiard makes a simple punch seem the most violent act of all through intelligent cinematography shot structure and fantastic sound editing. Regardless of the confusing story aspects, A Prophet is a riveting prison and gangster hybrid that just falls short of sublime filmmaking.

Grade: B+


How to Train Your Dragon
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Heartwarming. Beautiful. Stunning. These are usually words to describe any Pixar film. Meanwhile, Dreamworks Animation has served as the Jan to Pixar's Marcia Brady. It must be a tough position for Dreamwork's animators, who put in as much time as Pixar's and usually come up with mediocre products like Monsters vs. Aliens, Madagascar, and the reprehensible Shark Tale. Two years ago, Dreamworks surprised many with the fantastic Kung Fu Panda. It seemed like another of Jeffrey Katzenberg's financially-driven creations, rather than the tender, personal ones of Pixar. Instead, Panda featured thrilling action sequences, stunning imagery, and a heartfelt story.

Well Dreamworks has done it again. With How to Train Your Dragon, they have made a film with the potential to knock off Toy Story 3 for next year's Best Animated Film, a category Pixar seems to have bought all the real estate of (Dreamworks has only won once to Pixar's five, Pixar has also won the last three). Like Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon is a project that contains love and passion in every frame. You can tell the animators truly believed in this project rather than a financial cop-out like Shrek 3. How to Train Your Dragon tells the tale of young viking Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), who is essentially a animal-rights activist and PETA member among a mob of dragon-killing barbarians. Vikings are bred to do one thing: kill dragons, which seemingly terrorize the villages at will. Hiccup, a rather thin lad, does not have the physique or toughness to take down a dragon and certainly doesn't seem to descend from his brawny father Stoic (voiced by Gerard Butler). But he does make up for it with brains.

During a dragon attack one evening, Hiccup uses a catapult-like contraption to down a Night Fury, the most dangerous of all dragon species. The next morning, Hiccup goes to find his downed foe and kill it to prove he can live up to his father's reputation. But as he looks into the Night Fury's eyes, he does not see a man-slaying machine, but a gentle creature. He lets it live and a moving relationship begins to form. Hiccup and the Night Fury, which he names Toothless, have a bond that any petowner can relate to. The writers seemed to go out of the way to make Toothless cat like (and dog like to lesser extent). He loves fish, likes to be petted, purrs, chases light around, and generally moves like a feline. These discoveries make for a wonderful montage. Hiccup helps Toothless recover his ability to fly in exchange, which makes up many of the film's greatest, most thrilling scenes. Adding to these touching moments is a wonderful score by John Powell (who also did a heck of a job with Bolt). It swells at all the right times, but never touches sentimentality. It earns your emotions like the rest of the film.

I did not see the film in 3-D, which many critics commented on as being extraordinary. Regardless, How to Train Your Dragon features a heartfelt story that will touch even the most cynical of cynics and that's what you should be paying $10 or $15 dollars for. You can pretty much guess what will happen next with Hiccup's forbidden friendship. Hiccup starts to prove he can domineer dragons (in the ways he overcame Toothless' initial hesitancies) which makes his father happy. And then it goes awry. Yet, the film is enthralling. The action and flying sequences are skillfully shot and while the humor does not stick as well as say Monsters Inc., you'll find yourself chuckling quite a few times. When it ends, you want it to start all over again. Like any good Pixar film (aka all of them), How to Train Your Dragon transcends its false, animated constraints to tell a touching tale of pet love, mixing in a message of brains and compassion over brawn and hostility.

Grade: A