REVIEW: Skyfall

While I haven’t talked about it here on Nerdwatch, for the last six years I’ve been annoying the ever-loving crap out of friends, family, and anyone who’ll listen with my overly-verbose opinions on why the Bond franchise has gone down the crapper. Ever since the end of the Brosnan years and the transition to Daniel Craig the writing for the ongoing series has taken a noticeably sharp change in direction. One-liners were practically nonexistent, classic Bond-isms (his shaken Martinis, his Rolex watch) were not just absent but were deliberately eschewed by the writers. Some of this was certainly meant to showcase the fact that Craig’s Bond is a younger, different character than what we’re used to. While some of that is fine, the lack of these things robbed the series of some of its charm and quirk, things which have defined the franchise since 1962. There was a very slight attempt to return to form in Quantum of Solace, what with Bond returning to his original Walther PPK and a few more attempts at one-liners and women with impossibly suggestive names, but it was all wrapped up in a substantially worse film, and it seemed to me that Bond was buried deep in one of its rough patches.

And so we arrive at Skyfall, the 23rd entry in the James Bond franchise and the third to star Daniel Craig in the iconic role. I went into the movie with some trepidation (I actually went at the behest of others and only after they offered to pay for my ticket) and waited without much anticipation for the film to begin. But as the movie played out I realized something: I liked it. I was genuinely engaged throughout the entirety of the film and substantially fewer things seemed out of place for a Bond movie than have in the previous two entries. Bond might not be back in the truest sense that we’ve known him throughout the years, but with Skyfall he takes the biggest step towards beloved familiarity since Craig entered the scene.

I missed the PPK.


Skyfall opens en media res, in classic Bond tradition, and within minutes we’re thrown into a long, complicated chase sequence that traverses seemingly the entirety of Istanbul, from market streets to rooftops to a moving train. It’s a very well put together action sequence that then flows seamlessly into a beautiful Bond intro, with Adele delivering one of the best intro songs we’ve heard in a while for the franchise. The next bit of the film is mostly setting the stage, establishing the film as a low point for Bond and gearing up for what is probably one of the more personal stories we’ve seen in the history of Bond movies, and we’ll get into whether or not that’s a good thing a little later. But at any rate the story then kicks into gear and before long we’re tagging along as Bond hops from one exotic locale to the next in search of the MacGuffin device of choosing; in this instance a hard drive containing the names of all undercover MI6 agents in the field.

In a lot of ways the various filming locations are the real stars of the movie. Bond has always placed a lot of emphasis on glamorous or otherwise unique scenery to serve as a backdrop to the action and Skyfall is definitely up to par in that department. The aforementioned Istanbul bazaar, a high-class gambling house in Macau, the misty hills and valleys of Scotland, and a skyscraper in Shanghai with neon projections constantly changing the look of the surrounding environment all serve as visual feasts and your eyes will be working on overload to take it all in.  Pretty much all of these play host to at least one extensive action sequence, and the one in Shanghai deserves special attention for being very artistically shot. While I’ve become rather bored with action movies in the past few years, I found myself practically enraptured with this sequence, and it might be the first time I’ve been genuinely impressed with a fight scene in the better part of a decade.
This being a Bond movie, however, most of these sets do explode.
And it’s not just isolated to the action bits either: the entire movie boasts some great cinematography, with the camera work always making sure that every shot is engaging for the audience, either by making use of interesting angles or framing or through extensive crane or steadicam shots. In conjunction with the scenery the entire movie grabs hold of your eyes and never lets go until the credits start to roll, and at over two hours in runtime this is no small feat. The excellent technical skill displayed by the crew in combination with good pacing ensure that you’re unlikely to find yourself getting bored, unless of course you happen to dislike great moviemaking.

But the most well-shot, well-choreographed movie in the world still needs something worthwhile to display, and talking about the plot of a Bond movie is somewhat tricky to do. I don’t believe you can hold the stories told in these films up to other movies and expect them to come away unscathed: even Goldeneye, easily one of the best Bond movies ever made can’t hold a candle to other more plot-focused films. Bond films are very much designed to be “fun movies”, the kind of thing that you watch simply for the experience of doing so. They’re not really meant to challenge the viewer like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, or Full Metal Jacket (note: it should probably say something that the top three movies that came to my mind were all made by Stanley Kubrick). So I feel like I can’t really give this thing much of a literary critique. In fact, if anything I probably come down a little hard on Skyfall for trying to take itself perhaps a bit too seriously. This is almost certainly my nostalgia and minor fanboy-ism toward the franchise showing but I can’t help it: I’m a Bond fan.

As mentioned earlier, the movie allegedly focuses on the pursuit of a hard drive which threatens the security of active MI6 agents. The hard drive itself isn’t really important for the plot, however: what is important is the position it places our main characters. Bond, disenchanted with MI6 after an order given during the en media res sequence, has to deal with his authority issues and history with M as he decides to return to the service of Queen and Country. M, for her part, is faced with the bureaucratic backlash over the leak and her slipping position of respectability, as well as her own history with Bond. Together they face an enemy with a host of similar problems, but who has taken a different stance than they and channeled his frustrations back at MI6 and at M specifically. Javier Bardem plays this villain wonderfully and adds the quirk and character to the part that’s necessary to really pull off a great Bond villain. I genuinely can’t remember the motivations or nuances of the villains of the last two movies, but Bardem was a great casting choice and brought a lot of life back into the role of a Bond antagonist.

If you’re evil and you love it clap your hands.

 

All of these MI6 and past-specific elements and plot points create a Bond film that is much more personal than we’re used to. We’re more accustomed to villains building a superlaser and using it to threaten the world, and Bond, through ingenuity, charm, and a heavy dose of British patriotism shows up to save the day, usually with a smirk on his face, too. This is not the case in Skyfall. Instead we’re treated to a more involved story that deals with conflicted loyalties, regrets, and the struggles of growing old. That last bit falls a bit flat, however, as this is only Craig’s third film and he’s still among the youngest of the Bonds. Additionally that theme was explored before in Never Say Never Again, which I suppose technically falls outside of the regular Bond continuum, but even so. The Bond timeline is so muddled anyway after 50 years of movies, actors, and changing technology that it can’t really be called a “timeline” at all anymore.

Yet despite this somewhat more serious approach, Skyfallalso shifts a bit closer to the Bond formula that we love so much. The one-liners make a return, though if anything I think they could do with being a bit cornier (and delivered with a bit more of a sly tone by Craig, who seems like he’s trying to make a Bond witticism still somehow dramatic which is entirely the wrong way to go). Also back are the shaken martinis, a greater sense of suave confidence, and the almost callous way Bond seems to interact with women (disclaimer: this is specific to his character and should not be taken as being in line with my own views or those of Nerdwatch). Also, for the first time since the Brosnan years, Q-Branch finally makes a return, though it’s a rather lackluster one. While I don’t believe anyone can ever measure up to Desmond Llewelyn, the new Q comes off as the clichéd technological “boy genius” being quite young and seemingly far more adept with a laptop than any kind of actual production of field equipment. He also delivers one of the lines that seems like a complete slap in the face to the history of Bond films, saying that Q-Branch “doesn’t go in for that sort of thing anymore” when it comes to gadgets. Gadgets are an inextricable part of Bond, and if you’re going to shun them then you might as well not even have a Q-Branch at all. I was holding out hope for a return to the exploding-pen days of gadgetry but it seems that’s not to be. There is one further betrayal of Bond tradition but it’s a bit of a spoiler so I’ll leave it alone for the purposes of this summary and let you all be disappointed on your own (or not, depending on your personal perception, I suppose).

Dr. Q, working on his next project: the TARDIS.

And so with a return to form for a lot of the classic Bond quirks I have to turn away from my approach of “blame the writers” that I’ve taken with the previous two films. With a script that embraces the Bond formula more readily I finally have to look more closely at Daniel Craig and his portrayal of 007 to truly judge his competence in the role. And against this decidedly more Bond-like backdrop my impression has to be that he still isn’t a very good choice for the character. There are a number of reasons for this, but I think ultimately it boils down to one. Take a look at all of the Bond movies produced since 1962. If you’ll notice there is at least one common element shared by Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, and Brosnan:

They all smile.

In slipping into the shoes of cinema’s most prolific secret agent, these actors understood that Bond was a man who was exceedingly confident and largely happy in his line of work (barring a few issues here and there). He’s often times an assassin, yes, and one who will kill without a second thought but in his missions to do so he enjoys himself. He smirks when he catches the femme fatale in the shower, he grins when he beats someone at Baccarat, and he exudes smugness when he delivers that final one-liner to the big bad. In any other movie this would be deeply disturbing, but because Bond lives in a fictional, fantastical world where moon bases and cars with rocket engines are parts of everyday life for the characters, we know we’re just supposed to have fun with it and indulge in a bit of quirky, if albeit somewhat dark, humor.

Kudos for the car, but I just can’t buy that dour face as James Bond

 

Craig unfortunately lacks that same charm. His one-liners aren’t said with a smile, but with a grimace as he punches someone out with Jason Bourne-like dryness. It’s true that this was a story that delved more deeply into Bond’s character and his past (a story that I don’t think really needed to be told, quite honestly), but it still doesn’t seem like Craig has really caught on to what makes Bond Bond, and I think the legacy of the character suffers for it. It’s not due to bad acting or anything of the sort, it’s just not the portrayal of Bond that a lot of us are looking for.

In the same way, that was my impression of Skyfall as a whole. It’s a movie that doesn’t quite understand itself, struggling with an important legacy and a recent shift in tone and interpretation as it tries to bring the two together. People looking for the vaguely campy, charm-filled Bond can’t find it due to the grim tones of the plot, and people looking for a grittier spy movie can’t find it due to the jokes and over-the-top setpieces. Normally this would result in a movie that pleases no one but Skyfall somehow manages to miss the mark for both audiences yet still hit just close enough outside the black that we can still be fairly happy with it. Bond or not, Skyfall is probably the best action movie I’ve seen in a very long time and it gives dinosaurs like me some hope that the future of the Bond franchise still shows some promise of returning to its glory days.

REVIEW: Due Date

If you believe all the ads (heh, yeah right) then Due Date is “the funniest movie since The Hangover”. If this is indeed the case, then I’m exceptionally glad that I never bothered to waste my time with The Hangover. In short: Due Date sucks.

Now, if this were a forum post I’d just leave it at that (albeit with numerous misspellings and with more than a few crude remarks about your sexuality) but as it stands, I’m a critic and I do relish ever so much the joys of explaining why a movie sucks. Am I any better than the forum poster then? A discussion for another time.

Due Date is a roadtrip movie, and as such comparisons to other such films, namely Planes, Trains and Automobiles are sure to be made. The nature of these movies is to basically string together a series of gags and justify them through the dual means of rule of funny and because the nature of the film’s constantly moving setting encourages these somewhat disjointed sketches. However in other (see: better) roadtrip movies, there is a consistent theme or development path amidst these jokes. In Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Steve Martin’s character starts off as the cynical, uptight businessman and gradually learns to accept the quirky kind-heartedness of John Candy. It’s a comedy, yes: but it’s also a story about acceptance and unlikely kinship.

I think I had more fun simply looking at this picture than I did watching Due Date

Due Date does not have this. Though it certainly tries to imitate (or rather, rip off wholesale) this style of film, it fails miserably on every account. The principle problem in my eyes is that they completely missed the mark when writing Zach Galifianakis’ character. Instead of making him a loveable yet somewhat bizarre big ball of cuddles, they made him an insufferable moron. His redeeming qualities are too few and far between to make up for the fact that nearly every action he takes is that of a complete jackass. They didn’t create the loveably clumsy image they were probably shooting for and instead created something more like a Will Ferrell man-child character; almost as if someone took Ron Burgundy and stapled it to a less innocent version of Buddy the Elf in some kind of twisted experiment that even Mary Shelley would balk at.

But then you have what would normally be called the movie’s saving grace: Robert Downey Jr. Unfortunately for him (and us) the movie is just too flawed on a fundamental level to actually have a saving grace. RDJ is a fantastic actor, and his skills as such are still apparent even in this mess. It’s actually rather painful having to watch someone with so much talent thrown into a script that was created by those with so little. It becomes even more painful when we realize that he is perhaps the only reasonable character in the entire film besides maybe Jamie Foxx but that hardly counts as you’re likely to miss his performance if you take a slightly longer-than-normal moment to blink.

Hollywood is tough. One minute you’re starring in a critically-acclaimed film
about a beloved music icon… the next you’re in this. 

The reason I find this so difficult to watch is that it uses what is possibly my least-favorite formula in movies: you take the one reasonable character in the film (the aforementioned Robert Downey Jr.), surround him with a seemingly infinite number of clueless idiots and/or blatant jerks, and then mix in a long string of horrible, horrible events directed at this reasonable character so your finished product looks like the Tragedy of Oedipus as written by Dane Cook. And if you just thought “now there’s a good idea” then leave. You’re not welcome here.

It’s just an absolutely terrible formula because you’ve taken the one person the audience can relate to and put him in scenarios in which his only response is to get really freakin’ pissed off and/or depressed. As such, the audience then becomes really freakin’ pissed off and or depressed in turn. This is not the way you want your audience to feel during a comedy. If you were writing in another genre then such a formula can actually work quite well. Take Spider-Man for example: in these movies Peter Parker is a down-on-his luck everyman who seems to possess a life that is the very definition of “suck”. Everything is either taken away from him like his uncle or just out of his grasp like Mary Jane Watson (and we feel you on that one, buddy). But instead of just leaving it at that, he gets a chance to rise above all that by the end. He didn’t win the fights or the girl at first, but he’s able to by the end because he’s the hero of the story: he gets to succeed in the face of adversity. This does not happen in Due Date. Instead crap just happens to Robert Downey Jr. until eventually… more crap happens to Robert Downey Jr. It just continues on like this with the good guy getting the snot beaten out of him for 90 minutes until the movie just tapers off into a wholly unsatisfying ending. No one really succeeds, nothing is overcome, and nothing is really even learned. It just sort of… ends.

Iron Man: Before the Suit

All of this actually ends up getting in the way of the comedy. You find yourself unable to laugh as much as you’d like to simply because you’re so distracted by just how bad this movie was written. At one point Robert Downey Jr. just sort of… becomes okay with the fact that Zach Galifianakas is a complete moron? There’s no real reason for this as he has basically just acted with the same level of stupidity that he has up until that point so why the change of heart on the part of RDJ? It makes no sense and we’re left wondering if we missed something or if the course of events are really this nonsensical (pro tip: it’s the second option). And then of course there’s the issue of some of the jokes just not being that funny. I’ve already touched on the man-child archetype and how it’s more aggravating than amusing and the ambiguously gay undertones of Zach Galifianakas’ character were never really given context so they just exist as a lame joke unto itself. And finally (and forgive me as I’m about to go on a bit of a rant here) there’s the pot jokes. Where is it written in the book of modern comedy that every damned movie has to have a plethora of pot jokes? Sure, maybe that stuff was edgy back in 1969 with Easy Rider but today it’s just garbage that requires absolutely no original thinking on the part of the writers. There’s this perception that if you just show a cloud of smoke and somebody with unfocused eyeballs then you’ve got instant comedy. Well I’m not laughing, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Maybe I’m just in the minority of college students in that I’m not a punk-ass hippie pothead who doesn’t spend his weekends seeing how much noxious plant matter I can cycle through my lungs or brain cells I can fry. As such, I guess I can understand how I’m not in that lowest-common-denominator niche that people like to shoot for. But I’m positive that I’m not a unique entity so on behalf of all the movie-goers who aren’t drug users: stop it. This crap isn’t funny.

Is Due Date entirely un-funny? No, it isn’t. I had a few laughs here and there and it’s always a pleasure watching Robert Downey Jr. act. Heck, there was even a fair bit of decent cinematography scattered about with a particularly good helicopter shot of the Grand Canyon. But on the whole this movie disappointed me. It frustrated me, it didn’t make me laugh enough, and it really only succeeded in reminding me why I hardly ever bother with comedy movies made in the last 15 years or so. Even if you have the money to blow, I’d suggest that you spend it on something else. For most of us, Due Date simply isn’t worth our time.

REVIEW: Machete

Machete… where do I even start?

Machete literally started out as a joke, and in a lot of ways it still is. It was initially nothing more than a fake trailer that was shown at the beginning of the 2007 throwback to B-movie exploitation films Grindhouse. Apparently, Robert Rodriguez liked the idea a little too much to let it go, and so now that fake trailer has been expanded into a full-length movie.

Machete is an… interesting film. If you saw the trailers (which I did) or if you saw Grindhouse (which I didn’t) then you likely know full well what to expect: a horribly depraved, psychologically twisted, and all together awful movie.

I had a lot of fun.

Machete tells the story of an ex-federale, played by the ever-badass Danny Trejo, who has his family killed and himself left for dead by a Mexican druglord with a penchant for katanas played by none other than Steven Seagal. That’s right. Steven. Freaking. Seagal. If you didn’t know what kind of movie this was already, then you sure as hell do now.

This isn’t actually a promotional image. This is just how Steven Seagal
spends his time, all day every day

Assumed dead and abandoned by his superiors, Machete flees to the United States and works as a day laborer in lieu of brutally slicing and dicing criminals. But that changes when he is approached by a government man who offers him $150,000 to kill a Texas Senator, played by Robert De Niro.

Now, here is where I think the movie really lost me. Suddenly it shifts to a “oh no, let’s feel pity for the poor illegal immigrants while simultaneously despising and disparaging the evil conservative politicians and anyone who thinks like them” tone. And it keeps jumping back to this point over and over again, trying to establish its immigration message among the viewers in the most absurd ways. Seriously: this movie has more straw men than a Kansas cornfield. I went to see this movie so that I could see some ridiculous B-movie action scenes that I could get a good laugh out of, not listen to your politically-charged left-wing bull crap, Rodriguez.

I’m sorry for getting political here, as I really dislike politics of any kind: but this movie kinda forced it on me. It should have just stuck to its guns and kept making us laugh with its over-the-top displays of mindless violence that we would never get to see in a decent film. Instead, the movie adopts an incredibly obtuse and one-sided political message and tries to shove it down our throats: the illegal immigrants are the good guys, and anybody who wants to protect the border automatically assumes the role of the movie’s villain, getting to act as cannon fodder for the righteous warriors from Mexico. Even if you’re not of the same political bent as I am, this is still an incredibly dumb decision. It leaves the movie with a horribly disjointed sense of tone, and the audience feeling awkward and uncomfortable at its heavy-handed message. If we wanted to see this kind of stuff, we would have watched a Michael Moore movie… or stabbed ourselves in the eyes with dull knives, which would be just as preferable.

Oh look, he’s chopping stuff apart with the capital building in the background.
How poignant. 

But getting back on track… well, actually that’s darn near all I’ve got.

Machete is a movie that lets you laugh at how terrible it is. It is a parody, albeit a loving one, of the B-movie grindhouse flicks of years gone by. It’s a chance for the audience, the actors, and the filmmakers to let everything loose and come up with the most ridiculous, outlandish, so-bad-it’s-good stunts and events they can and just have fun with it. For a lot of us, it’s a chance to unwind. For Steven Seagal… well, it’s really just another movie.

This is not, I repeat, NOT a movie for everyone. Hell, it’s hardly a movie for anyone. If you are a parent and you are considering taking your children to see this movie I want you to stop. I want you to pick up the nearest heavy object you can find, and I want you to beat yourself in the face with it repeatedly. You should be ashamed. The amount of violence, drug use, and sexual content in this movie is overwhelming. If you were to put a poster of it in your front window, then you would never be bothered by Jehovah’s Witnesses again for they would flee in front of it like a vegetarian before my fridge. This is a movie for adults who can understand the satire here: no one else.

This is not advertising: this is Danny Trejo warning the unprepared
away from this movie.

Now personally, I’m able to get a good laugh out insane sequences like a motorcycle ramping into the air, backlit by a massive extraneous explosion as a minigun mounted to the front of it mows down absurd amounts of people. I’m able to chuckle when Jessica Alba stabs a man in a luchador mask with 6-inch heels. I can do this, because I know it’s all a joke. But it is a very sick joke. I cannot in good conscience recommend this movie to anyone who wishes to keep their moral fiber intact.

But if there’s anyone out there who wants to hearken back to the B-movies of yesteryear, enjoys the “so-bad-it’s good” presentation of movies, and who is capable of leaving their sense of dignity at the door, then maybe you’ll be able to get a good laugh or two out of Machete.

For everybody else… run. Take your children with you and don’t look back, lest this movie destroy you.

REVIEW?: Inception

This is very late in coming, and is probably completely irrelevant by now as any of you that still have some semblance of humanity left within yourselves have already seen this movie. Those of you with slightly more humanity have probably seen it twice. Honestly, I find myself between a rock and a hard place on this one, as talking about this movie can really only accomplish two things: I can either blather on about a film that you’ve seen before and so do not need me to reinforce the idea that it it worthwhile, or I can blather on about a film that you haven’t seen (you monster) and ruin the whole thing for you.

Really, all I can say here is this:

Inception is good.

Simultaneously classy and badass

There. That’s all you need to know. Now go throw your money at the feet of Christopher Nolan because the man has earned it.

But in all seriousness, there are things to be said about this movie that won’t ruin the experience for you, so we’re going to depart from the traditional “here’s a brief summary and explanation of it’s entertainment value” formula that I’ve used on here thus far. Instead, there are things about Inception that can and should be discussed not solely relating to the film, but about how they relate to movies on the whole.

First and foremost, Inception is a movie that earned my admiration early on because of one crucial factor: it does not fall into the trap of catering to the lowest common denominator. Or, to be more concise, Inception is a movie that doesn’t cater to stupid people.

Now, let me explain what I mean by that. Movies occasionally feel the need to dumb down their content in an attempt to get the most number of people in the theater as possible. It makes a fair bit of sense from a business perspective, thinking that making a film more accessible to more people will therefore bring in better profits. However, it doesn’t necessarily work that way.

Instead, what usually happens is you get a movie that is so dumbed down that absolutely no one can appreciate it. The finished product ends up being made so “accessible to the masses” that anything that could have made it special is gone and has been replaced with immature, shallow, and entirely inane content that manages to bore even the lowest common denominator they were looking to appease without quite managing to come around the horn into “so bad it’s good” territory, a la Plan 9 From Outer Space.

So bad that it breaks the laws of quality

Just look at some of the movies that are being made right now: Hot Tub Time Machine. Legion. Mother-frakking Twilight. And if I see another Will Ferrel movie where he plays a bumbling man-child character I might just have to raze Dreamworks SKG to the ground. There was actually a great article in the Wall Street Journal a little while ago that basically says what I’m trying to a little better than I myself can.

But Inception (for the most part) manages to avoid this trap. It creates a movie that doesn’t neuter it’s intellectual properties to accommodate that brain-dead teenager three rows in front of you that can’t stay focused on the screen for more than 3 minutes before texting his “bros” that are sitting two seats away from him. Inception is a movie that isn’t afraid to reach out into the audience, grab your brain by the medulla oblongotta, tie it in several intricate knots for two hours and then finally rip it out your eyes and curb stomp the little bugger into a beautiful oblivion.

Christopher Nolan is hereby endowed with the rank of Magnificent Bastard.

There are very few instances where Inception does not maintain the intellectual high ground among it’s fellow summer films. There are one or two segments that seem to lose focus a bit as the camera gets caught up in the rush of pretty explosions and excessive gunfire, with no real explanation given as to why the characters suddenly attained a level-5 badass degree from the John McClane Institute of Looking Cool While Killing People. It’s a bit of mainstream catering that really only happens in one particular sequence. The rest of the time, the fight sequences are impressive, but justified in their scope and intricacy (or lack thereof).

I just realized how ridiculous this still frame looks

But moving on to a slightly less pretentious point, another element that Inception truly gets right is consistency. It nails this point so completely that you don’t even realize how much it’s missing in other films until you’ve seen this, which is either a testament to the genius of this film, or to the passively accepting attitude we as moviegoers have developed over the years. Possibly a bit of both.

But what do I mean by “consistency”? Well, what I mean is that in a lot of films things seem to happen quite frequently that put a bit of strain on our willful suspension of disbelief. It might have been perceived as strange at one point in time, but now whenever we see a gas tank explode after a single shot from a 9mm pistol, or an F-14 flying inverted a meter away from a MiG-28, we eat it up and attribute it all to the Rule of Cool. Things simply happen because they’re awesome, and that’s all the reasoning we need.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with this. I’m actually a huge fan of the Rule of Cool. Without it we wouldn’t have movies like Rambo, The Blues Brothers, or Die Hard. But sometimes the rule gets overused a bit. Even in movies where the laws of the universe can be re-written however the author likes things still appear to happen simply because, hey: why the hell not?

This looks like a surrealist painting: but it manages to make far more sense

But Inception doesn’t do that. The thing that I find the most impressive about this film is that it was clearly somebody’s baby. You can tell from watching it that this was an idea that Christopher Nolan has had building inside his head for years, and has only now been able to release it upon the world. You can tell this because of that one persistent element I mentioned earlier: consistency.

You see, in Inception nothing ever seems to happen “just because”. For every single action that is performed onscreen, there is a law for it. If a staircase can infinitely circle back on itself, or if people tumble in circular motion around a hallway because of sudden shifts in gravity then there is a real, legitimate reason for it. Nolan created a universe that has a set of laws just as concrete and inflexible as Newton’s in our own, and his characters and his stories in that universe follow those laws. This movie was seemingly imagined as a fictional realm first and as the story within it second. It creates an image that is almost completely seamless.

I could easily go on for another hour or so about Inception. In fact, I have on several occasions. But that would involve talking about specific plot points that you either need to find out for yourself or engage in an actual discussion about, not just sit here and listen to me talk about them. Inception is a movie that you get far more than your money’s worth out of simply because when you leave the theater it’s not anywhere near over. When you step out into the parking lot, you’ll enjoy yourself just as much talking about the movie and debating its assorted twists and turns, its philosophical implications, and its entirely perfect ending. It’s a movie that is only enriched by a second (or third or fourth) viewing, and one that will be talked about for some time now.

Make your Oscar picks now, ladies and gentleman, because regardless of what comes out between now and February 27, I expect Inception to perform admirably… or unfairly steal the awards away from everyone else, if you ask anybody who wasn’t involved with its production.

REVIEW: Toy Story 3

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: Toy Story 3 is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time, and is possibly the best in the trilogy.

We’ve all known for years that Pixar made good movies. But with this, their eleventh release in fifteen years I think it’s perhaps not uncalled for to declare them one of if not the most successful film company of all time. Eleven films may not seem like much, but when you consider that not one of them has performed poorly (Finding Nemo alone has raked in over eight hundred million dollars) and that they pretty much pioneered the computer-animated movie, and then pile on top of that their twenty-four Academy Awards, six Golden Globes, and three Grammys, you realize how incredible this studio is. I can say with all certainty at this point that if Pixar makes a movie, I will indefinitely be there to see it… multiple times.

But if I could now remove my lips from Pixar’s collective ass (they’re not paying me, I swear), maybe I could get around to telling you about this particular theatrical triumph.

Toy Story 3 makes you fall in love with it from literally the first few seconds of the film. With two successful installments before this one, it’s one of those rare moments where you feel like standing up and cheering when you see the familiar characters make their entrance, and oh what an entrance they make. I won’t say too much, because I really do believe that this movie is too special for me to say much of anything about any one particular moment; you honestly do need to see it for yourself. And while that will make my job of demonstrating my love of it a bit harder, I’ll do my best. Just for you. Feel grateful, darnit.

“Back in Black” seems simultaneously very appropriate and very out of place

While the first movie dealt with themes such as jealousy and friendship, and the second movie was a lesson in self-worth with a not-so-subtle jab at the collectible toy market, the third film is a story of loyalty and enduring love. Andy has grown up, and he’s leaving for college in a matter of days. With most of his old toys gone, those that remain are faced with a crisis: will they earn the attention of their owner again, be banished to the attic, or cast out as trash? As the toys grapple with their emotions over their uncertain fate, they are unceremoniously thrust into the first plot point, which sees them donated to a local daycare center, where everyone but Woody believes they can make a new life for themselves.

Of course, if it were as simple as that, we wouldn’t have a movie, now would we? Of course, the daycare center soon sheds its joyful façade and is revealed for the dystopia that it is. Now, younger children probably won’t get the same kind of fulfillment that myself and my friends got from this section, but from the time they enter the daycare the entire thing began to feel very much like The Great Escape, with a purple fuzzy bear (who reminds me very much of a conglomeration of the pigs from George Orwell’s Animal Farm) serving as the warden. It’s another prime example of how Pixar is able to make a children’s movie that appeals just as much to adults. If I may reiterate: these people are bloody brilliant.

However, this also presents what might be my only gripe with the movie, and it wasn’t even one that would affect me personally. The fact is, I’m not sure that I would show kids Toy Story 3 at the same age I would show them Toy Story 1 or even Toy Story 2. While it is still acceptable on the whole for children, there are definitely a few segments that give the film a decidedly darker feel than its predecessors. Yes, perhaps Sid and his army of mangled and tortured toys from the first movie was a bit bizarre, but several scenes in this movie, including one with a very, VERY disturbing cymbal-monkey (I can’t make this stuff up) perhaps would have been a bit extreme for me when I was four.

Holy crap, I was four when Toy Story came out?

Proof that you can build an ensemble cast out of CG characters

But apart from that, I honestly can’t think of much that I didn’t like about this movie. Oh, I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff that I could pick apart if I tried hard enough, but this is a kid’s movie, so it doesn’t really need to hold up to the same standards as films aimed at thoroughly-educated adults. It just happens to be a fantastic bonus that it does. There was one scene in particular (which I still can’t talk about to you that haven’t seen it and its driving me a little bit crazy) where I felt deeply moved by the actions of the characters onscreen. This was immediately followed by a moment where myself and the rest of the theater felt compelled to actually break into applause. I have not done this since I saw Return of the King. Just think about that for a moment. This movie made us respond to it in a manner that can be compared to the Lord of the Rings movies: which pretty much swept the Academy Awards at the time of their release. And to badly paraphrase Woody: THESE! ARE! JUST! TOYS!

Attention Hollywood: you now have to compete with children’s entertainment to gain my adoration. I don’t know if that’s a testament to Pixar’s genius, or a horrible insult to the rest of the industry. Probably a bit of both.

At any rate, there is really no excuse not to see this movie. You can watch it in 3D if you want, but while it’s probably the best use of it I’ve seen (simply using it for depth of field techniques and not cheesy “jump out of screen at face” kind of garbage) it’s not really necessary. But however you choose to view it, you will walk away satisfied.

Unless you have no soul.