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    Thursday
    Jul152010

    Despicable Me

    Despicable Me is a movie that's so sweet that even the fart jokes are adorable.  In what's turning out to be a great year for animated films, this latest family adventure is definitely well worth checking out for both kids and adults.  And you don't even have to see it in 3D.

    Gru (a Russian-accented Steve Carell) prides himself on being the world's finest supervillian.  Along with his army of yellow minions, he's managed to pull off a number of high-profile thefts, most notably the Times Square Jumbotron screen.  But when a new high-tech villian called Vector (Jason Segel) threatens to outdo him, Gru plans the ultimate heist:  he's going to steal the moon.  Unfortunately, the Bank of Evil refuses to give him a loan until he gets his hands on the shrink ray needed to pull off the crime, which Vector has already stolen and hidden away in his high-security fortress.

    Desperate, Gru winds up adopting three orphaned young girls to sell cookies to Vector so he can sneak in and steal the shrink ray.  He intends to return the girls to the orphanage once the job is done, but of course within about 30 seconds they manage to melt his supervillian heart and make him realize the maybe the moon isn't the most important thing he needs in his life.

    The story to Despicable Me is very predictable, and you can see most of the jokes coming a mile away.  Overall, I'd put it behind Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon on my list of favorite animated films this year (I have yet to see Shrek Forever After).  But even so, the movie is a lot of fun and it's absolutely adorable.  The voicework is top-notch.  Even the little girls were soliciting plenty of "awwww's" from audience I saw the movie with, which was mostly adults.  In addition to Carell's usual awesomness, the movie also features Russell Brand as Gru's gadget man, Dr. Nefario, whose advanced age tends to prevent him from hearing Gru's instructions correctly, to hilarious results.  The always classy Julie Andrews is also in the film as Gru's perpetually disappointed mother.

    Gru's minions, which seem to have made up the movie's entire advertising campaign, are a blast.  They reminded me a bit of the slugs from Flushed Away.  They don't necessarily add anything to the story, they're mostly there to randomly pop up and cause some kind of comedic chaos.  What cracked me up the most about them is how, as strange as they were, they all had normal names like Phil or Kevin.  

    I did not see the movie in 3D, which was fine, since it was a digital screening and looked just fine without it.  But it did seem like they had fun with a few scenes for the 3D version - such as the scene where the girls take Gru on a rollercoaster ride, and some extra scenes during the credits where the minions are trying to see how far out of the screen that they can jump.  So if you're a fan of the 3D, you'll probably enjoy that version even more.

    If you find time in between Inception screenings this weekend, definitely check out Despciable Me.  You'll have a great time. 

    Tuesday
    Jul132010

    Inception

    Words truly can’t describe what I’ve just seen. I don’t throw this term around lightly, but this was a complete masterpiece. From start to finish I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the next moment to pass in this film, but dreading the end. It was such an emotional ride, one I wasn't at all expecting. The visuals we were treated to in the trailers were merely the icing on the cake in the grand scale of what Inception really is.

    I was originally worried I'd go in with my expectations raised so high it couldn't compare. This wasn't at all the case. As high of hopes as I had for this going in, nothing could top the feeling I felt after walking out of the theatre. Christopher Nolan in my eyes deserves a spot next to Scorsese as one of this generation’s greatest director’s.

    The plot from what everyone knows is a crime which takes place from within someone’s mind. Which to a certain extent is entirely true, but what the trailers don’t reveal, and without spoiling anything is this is about far more than the mind blowing visual and stunning action sequences. This is an amazing story more so than an action filled adrenaline pumped flick. What’s amazing about inception is it touches on so many different genres yet the plot once it comes full circle is actually quite simple. The character development and the way the scenes were shot and brought together are astounding.

    It’s very easy to get caught up in the many layers of this film. About half way in I was almost concerned that it had even gone over my own head. But by the end of the film once everything has come full circle you feel a sense of closure, but you could still very easily debate the outcome.

    The character development was far beyond anything I expected going into this. The plot works around Leonardo DiCaprio’s Character Cobb and his team, but even more so around him and his personal journey. You’re taken so far into Cobb’s mind and subconscious that you feel like you know him personally. You become extremely emotionally invested in him. You understand his motives, and the way he thinks, why he does things the way he does. Inception is almost entirely about one man’s redemption, but you find yourself questioning that very thing several times over. Nothing truly makes sense until the final credits roll, and like I said even then you could argue the outcome. Nothing is at all cliché about the way this film ends, so don’t for a second think I just ruined the film for you.

    You can go out right now and watch every piece of promotional material for this, the trailers, the clips, the interview, the synopsis, and nothing not even this raving review will tell you what the central theme or tone behind the film really are, until you see it all the way through for yourself. I plan to see it again on Friday when it opens everywhere and I suggest you do the same. This is the type of film that multiple viewing will only enhance your perception of it.

    I'm giving Inception an overall 10/10

    I might also add that I only gave The Dark Knight 8.5. If Nolan isn't at least nominated for Best Director, Inception for Best Picture, and Leo for Best Actor at next year’s Oscars than I am officially done with them.

    Tuesday
    Jul132010

    Batman Under the Red Hood Blu Ray Review

    The eighth direct to video release from Warner Bros and DC Comics is Batman:Under the Red Hood. Based on a graphic novel of the same name. The plot revolves around Batman's guilt for allowing the second Robin Jason Todd to die at the hands of the Joker. Five years later a new crime lord/vigilante shows up in Gotham dealing his own form of justice. He goes by the moniker Red Hood, a name once used by the Joker before being dropped into a vat of chemicals by Batman. He starts off by taking over the drug trades in Gotham from the current king pin of crime Black Mask. Batman suspects the Joker may be behind the Red Hood, but the problem is Joker is locked up in Arkham Asylum.

    When Red Hood first shows up he forces all of Black Masks top men into working for him, and gives them a set of rules to live by. If they abide by the rules and pay up to him he offers to protect them from Black Mask and Batman. Black Mask responds to this firstly by trying to kill him as he tears his operation apart and takes his men from him, but Red Hood changes his motives and begins to mercilessly kill Black Masks men at will. with no option left and nowhere to run to Black Mask breaks the Joker out of Arkham in order to hunt down and kill Red Hood.

    When ever you watch an animated film you almost look at it differently than if it were in actual live action, regardless of the subject matter. With Red Hood you get so caught up in the world they've created using a combination of 2D animation and 3D backgrounds, as well as a story gripping enough it could have been made into a feature length live action film. The fact that it's animated becomes irrelevant.

    Stepping in for Kevin Conroy the usual voice behind the animated Batman is Bruce Greenwood who does a great Job unlike Billy Baldwin in Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths. Taking over from Mark Hamill as the regular voice of the Joker was Joe DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama), who gives the character a much more sinister approach. His Joker still laughs and acts like a maniac, but sounds unlike anything you've heard before. Neil Patrick Harris is Nightwing aka the original Robin, he adds a slight touch of humor.

    Without spoiling anything for those of you who haven't read the book like myself. It's a great film, and not just as an animated feature it's great in general. The tone is much darker than anything you would likely expect from an animated Batman film, but it works for how twisted and dark the story is.

    I'm giving Batman Under the Red Hood an overall 7/10

    Friday
    Jul092010

    Blu-Ray Review: The Road

    The Road is a movie with a terrible reputation. At one point hoped to be a 2009 Oscar contender, it was quietly released into theaters after many delays and disappeared almost as quietly.  People who've Netflixed it out of curiousity and were perhaps fooled by its terrible trailer that made it look an action movie (the studio had no idea what to do with this film) were turned off by the gruesomness of the post-apocalyptic hellhole that this movie is. 

    But if you see this movie when you know what you're getting into, you're going to discover that this is an amazing, criminally underlooked film.  Based on the 2006 Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road is a story about a father and son travelling through a world destroyed by an unknown disaster.  We never find out what caused the world to end, nor do we even learn the main characters' names, but that doesn't matter.  This is a story about survival, and what a father needs to do when his only job left in the world is protect his son. 

    Unlike The Lovely Bones, an adaptation that I was so disappointed with, the film version of The Road doesn't pull any punches from the book, even though it doesn't include the book's most gruesome moment (yes, the baby scene, for those of you who've read the book, although it was apparently filmed).  The rest of it is all there, the cannibalism, the starvation, the absolute dread and danger in almost every place they go.  

    A movie where much is left unexplained and the characters are nameless wouldn't work without good performances, and here the acting is extraordinary.  In a behind-the-scenes feature on the blu-ray, Viggo Mortensen actually holds up his copy of the book which is filled with notes about the story and his character and you can see every bit of it in his performance.  This is a character who is not a survivalist-type.  Ten years ago he was a normal guy, a husband and an expectant father.  Now he's someone who has to teach his child how to put a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger if they get into trouble.  When a man threatens his son and tells him that he knows he's never shot anyone, he's right.  You sympathize with him because he's not an action hero.  He was such perfect casting for this role and it's unfortunate it went mostly unrecognized at awards time.

    The same can be said for Kodi Smit-McPhee as the boy.  First of all, the kid is Australian, but you never know it watching the movie because his American accent is flawless.  Obviously, this is a tough role, not just because the things he goes through are horrible (again, he's barely 10 and he knows how to blow his brains out), but it's a character that played wrong could run the risk of becoming annoying.  But he's an amazing little actor, and his performance was downright heartbreaking.  There comes a point in the movie where you realize he's protecting his father almost as much as his father is protecting him, and their chemistry onscreen together is flawless. 

    The movie also features Charlize Theron, who appears in flashbacks as the wife of Viggo's character, and is given a little more to do than she did in the book (although she ends the same way).  A barely-recognizable Robert Duvall has a small, but memorable role as a fellow survivor.  But it's the performance of Michael K. Williams as The Thief that's sticks in your head long after the movie has ended.

    Director John Hillcoat really got this book, and he made an incredible film.  Yes, it's as depressing and disturbing as everyone says it is, and the ending is as ambiguous as the rest of the story was.  But regardless, I recommend giving it a chance.  It's a terrific film. 

    Friday
    Jul022010

    Eclipse

    Hey, did you guys know there was a new movie released this week to go along with the Twilight saga? Yep, Eclipse, the third installment in the series hit theaters Monday night at midnight, and it seems that you can’t go anywhere without hearing something about it.

    I like to keep my reviews somewhat light on spoilers, but, for those of you who don’t want any knowledge of the film before seeing it for yourself, you may want to skip to the next article.

    It starts off with an opening scene that, at that point, I considered to be the best of the trilogy. In a way, it mirrored the opening scene of The Lost Boys, where the cop runs from the camera, scared for his life by whatever was after him. There’s a lot of quick, sweeping camera movement that can never quite catch up to what we as the audienc knows to be a vampire, but is scaring the bejeezies out of the teenage boy in peril. The scene cuts away with him looking down at his bleeding hand and screaming.

    Obviously the movie picks up right where New Moon left off with Edward trying to get Bella to agree to marry him and Bella trying to get him to turn her into a soulless, bloodsucking monster of movie making proportions. I’m sorry. Is that politically incorrect? The agreement is still in place that he’ll turn her after graduation and they’ll be wed, but as the film progresses, although she never admits it aloud, she seemingly has second thoughts due to the fact that she would have to say goodbye to her family and Jacob forever.

    You remember Jacob, right? You know, Sharkboy. He plays a bigger part in this story, and the tension between him and Edward over Bella’s affection provides some much needed comedic relief that I personally didn’t think existed in the first two movies.

    With a new (and old) threat on the horizon, Edward agrees to leave Bella in Jacob’s care while he joins his covenant to feed and prepare for an upcoming battle with a clan of newborn vampires, who we learn is stronger than older vampires, because some of their human blood is still in their body. I guess that’s how it is in Washington. Down in Bon Temps, LA, the older the vampire is the stronger they are. But that’s a fang of a different color, I guess.  

    During her stay with the wolf pack, so to speak, Bella is subject to a story about the tribe’s past that explains the on-going war between the wolves and the “cold ones”.

    To match that bit of history, we also get separate back stories on Jasper and Rosalie.

    It was during the history channel version of Rosalie that I realized why I was enjoying the film more than its predecessors. It actually had a little grown up material in it. Although, thankfully for the younger crowd it didn’t show it, she eludes to the fact that she was gang raped and left in the street to die before she was turned. Then, of course, she took her revenge on all of her assailants.

    Another big plus was the improvement of special effects. I hated, HATED, the scene in the first film where Edward climbed the tree with Bella on his back, because of the obvious cable work. It looked cheap. I’m thinking maybe the director saw the same thing, albeit too late, and decided to go a different direction. They also created a new method of destroying vampires, in which they crumble like stone statues. It was a pretty impressive idea when dealing with younger audiences. Especially since one of the main scenes ends with a decapitation. I would assume that a preteen girl would much rather see broken concrete lying on the ground between a body and its head.

    So, all in all, it really was a pretty decent film. You have the obvious love triangle between Jacob, Bella and Edward. You have the immediate duel threat of the vampire army and its leader, along with the looming threat of the Volturi, who watched over the entire proceedings without interference, and then Bella’s weighted decision of leaving her life behind her. All that topped with a smoother arrangement of special effects and camera work makes for an unexpected fun time in the theater.