Archive for July, 2010

Avatar (Apple) and The Hurt Locker (Orion) [Part I]

Apple: I personally liked Avatar a lot more than The Hurt Locker, and was completely expecting it to win Best Picture, especially after Katherine Bigelow won the Best Director award.  (She was once James Cameron’s wife, and there seemed to be quite some interest in who would take home the award.)  What did you think?

Orion: Avatar had beautiful visuals, but ultimately I felt unsatisfied with the story behind it all.  It was an exercise in style over substance.  The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, not only looked great (it really captures the grit of war and sand) but was a fascinating exploration in the development of character.  It had style AND substance.

Apple: I don’t think that you are giving Avatar’s beauty enough credit.  What a visually striking film!  It was one of the first films that I saw in 3D, and so far, the only one that I think was worth going to watch in 3D.  All those colors and new creatures – don’t tell me you thought they weren’t amazing?  I think that physical beauty alone can drive a movie sometimes; for me, Avatar might have been a more exciting version of Pocahontas, but it was executed gracefully and masterfully.  One can truly see why Cameron waited all these years for technology to catch up with his imagination.

Orion: I don’t disagree with a single one of your comments.  However, Avatar simply did not have enough story to make any of its visuals anything more than ephemeral brushstrokes on a canvas.  One does not, cannot remember the actual beauty of a movie shown on a movie screen.  On the other hand, The Hurt Locker not only present a sensorial experience but also provides interesting questions for the mind to ponder.  Such questions take root in the mind.  As one character from a recent blockbuster said: ideas are the most insidious of viruses.  I won’t forget the raw and complicated emotions produced by The Hurt Locker, but I’ve already forgotten how good Avatar looked in 3d.

Apple: I must disagree with you; I thought Avatar had plenty of emotion and ‘substance’ in addition to its beauty.  Perhaps you should get your eyesight or memory examined, because I certainly remember feeling quite an epic amount of awe at multiple points in Avatar.  Then again, I have always loved epic movies, large-scale stories.  I felt that The Hurt Locker was, while well done and well shot, just too bland for me.  Even the colors of the movie felt washed out, dry-hued and pale; it lacked even the browns of grit and mud and might as well have been filmed in black-and-white.  What are these questions from The Hurt Locker that interested you? I actually found the movie almost boring at certain scenes, something that never happened in Avatar.

Orion: Here are several questions directly addressed in The Hurt Locker: what does war do to men?  What does war do to children?  What relationships form during war?  What is guilt?  What is responsibility?  If you were bored in The Hurt Locker, well then, I can’t say much about you.  If you, like a child, need constant stimulation in order to be entertained, then by all means, Avatar is a better movie.  But if you want mature discussion and masterful filmmaking (you assume that the “washed out” feel of The Hurt Locker was unintentional and poor filmmaking, on the contrary, the effect is often used in movies to convey a sense of loneliness or detachment) then the Hurt Locker is simply the better choice.  Personally, I find films like The Hurt Locker to be epic in a way that you seem to overlook: the interaction between people is more epic than any single battle, or any war.  Every second is a new battle, every moment something new is learned.

To be continued.

Categories: Movie Reviews

Potential reviews.

July 25, 2010 1 comment

So far, we’ve mostly been reviewing new movies.  But I’d really like to review some older movies too.  Any suggestions?

Some ideas include:

Winter’s Bone – 95% Critics but only 64% Community on Rotten Tomatoes.  Why did critics love the movie but not viewers?  I love disparities.

An Education – Mainly, I want to check out Carey Mulligan’s acting in preparation for “Never Let Me Go”.

Clash of the Titans – Both critics and community agreed that this movie was horrible.

Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker – although Hurt Locker already won Best Picture, Orion and I disagreed strongly on which one was going to win.  I’m all for Avatar.

Categories: Uncategorized

Who is Evelyn Salt? – Apple – 3.5/5

From the not-so-exciting previews and trailers, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to see “Salt” this week.  However, after receiving a 2-for-1 ticket deal (Fandango – though it didn’t work) and finding someone else who was up to watch it instead of Inception (Joe, from lab), I decided to see if it was truly worth Ebert’s four-star review (what was up with that, anyway?).

The question that drives the movie truly is “Who is Evelyn Salt?”  Beginning from the first scene, the audience is led to wonder whose side Salt is on; the movie presents actions that make her seem like one person one second, another person the second.  Although it was possible to determine most of Evelyn Salt’s identity and motivations before their reveals in the movie, there were still a lot of surprises along the way.  Some of these I assume were not meant to be puzzled out by the viewer, but to merely act as catalysts for engagement.  And that was fine, really.

Having just written what Orion calls a “scathing review” of Inception, perhaps I feel a little calmed down.  But truly, I think what gave Salt its “cute” and “nicely wrapped up” feel is the fact that it didn’t try to be anything more than what it was.  It was an action-packed, spy-thriller flick; and it’s true, Angelina Jolie is great in this sort of role (Tomb Raider, Mr. and Mrs. Smith).  Our audience was active again, and cheered in many of Jolie’s action scenes and stunts; these certainly were impressive, especially considering she performed them herself.

Readers by now must have realized that I love character more than anything else.  Plot can be nonexistent, but as long as there is good character, I like the movie.  Here, while there is plot movement, it is pretty loose; but then again, plot detail is not the point of this movie.  It’s about Evelyn Salt, and following her movements.  Each action scene was well done, exciting, and tension filled.

There is something about doing the impossible that is great.  The chase scenes – Evelyn Salt vs. Everyone Else – reminded me of Jason Bourne, except with less background detail.  And yet, even with that lack of history, I found the scenes tense and well-executed.  Is this not all the more impressive?  To be able to conjure tension from sheer physical action and filming?  Good job, directors and writers.  My point is that as long as a movie does not try to be more than it obviously is, its shortcomings are excusable.  Was not Dante’s Odysseus punished for exceeding his lot in life?

Overall – 3.5/5; great action, Angelina Jolie, and lots of surprises.  See it to take a break from heavy movies.

Best regards,


Categories: Movie Reviews

Inception is the Idea: Orion’s Review of Inception (4/5 Waffles)

July 19, 2010 1 comment

The Characters

There are some ideas so compelling that you are forced under their spell. In the face of such intellectual purity, one can forgive a film its excesses. And Inception certainly has its excesses.

But it didn’t matter.

No doubt you’ve seen Apple’s scathing review: let me just say that I wrote this review merely after glimpsing Apple’s incredibly harsh score. 2/5? Let’s get serious. Stripped of the ideas that make this film work, I might agree, and her points are all valid when taken alone. But that’s exactly the problem: this movie works not because of the individual machinations of each discrete part but on the smooth (or relatively smooth) interactions of the whole. It is easy to find flaws in the parts, but it is much harder to criticize the whole.

A quick synopsis. Inception takes place sometime in a future where it has become possible to share and manipulate dreams. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, one of the most skilled extractors in this world. As an extractor, Cobb works to steal valuable information from the dreams of whoever he is working on. However, it is this life that has forced him away from the family he loves. Things change when a powerful businessman offers Cobb amnesty in exchange for a supposedly impossible job: inception. Inception being the planting of an idea so entwined with the subjects mind that it mimics true inspiration.

The start of this movie was very promising. I was immediately drawn in: the characters and the scenes seemed so crisp on the screen. Of all the excesses of Inception, the worst of them is the failure to fully follow up this excellent start with equally excellent development. The characters (except Cobb) fade into shadows and the plot becomes wrapped up in the heist. The focus on the heist is not necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the heist itself is extremely interesting, but the loss of the characters and their banter is saddening in a way hard to articulate.

This is a heist movie, and one that entertains, mostly because of what is being stolen and how it is being stolen. The action scenes are a beauty to watch, dizzying in their execution. The physics of the dreamworld, skewed by the physics of reality, make for interesting fight scenes. By the end of the movie, things are flying together in a succession of events that is sure to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

Leonardo DiCaprio drives this movie, his intensity filling each and every scene with a sense of urgency. Sometimes I find his relentless intensity overbearing, but in this movie, where his character is driven by guilt and desire, this intensity works.

The final, and perhaps most perplexing excess of Inception is the length: at two and a half hours it is very long for a movie that works on exploiting the tension of the audience. But the sprawl of the movie can be be forgiven, given how much is meant to be conveyed in these few hours: worlds are created and destroyed, ideas are stolen and created, and lovers say goodbye for the last time.

In the end, this movie works on the strength of its ideas. As Cobb might say, ideas are the most insidious of things. After watching this movie, it will be impossible not to think about it. Inception succeeds, one might say, in the strength of its own inception.

4/5 waffles.

With love,


Categories: Movie Reviews

Inception – Apple – 2/5

Orion, my review partner, and I were deciding between seeing this or Despicable Me.  In the end, Rotten Tomatoes’ 85% rating made us choose this.  However, after seeing it, I really wish we’d gone for Gru and company instead.

I notice that Leonardo DiCaprio seems to play this type of role a lot – someone pretending to be someone else; examples – The Departed, Catch Me If You Can, that one movie with Russell Crowe…  I also think that while the guy can act, he has the tendency to overkill; he really hits an idea over the head.

Inception begins as a cool idea – dreams within dreams and people who can go into dreams.  How could this not be a good movie?  Well, for one, the acting is very heavy-handed. Too much of the movie is devoted to direct reveal of necessary information, and since there is too much information, none of it receives the time or attention it deserves.

It’s a shame because I usually love this type of movie – watching the recruitment of team members who each have their own personalities and skills – like Ocean’s Eleven – but here, none of the team members get enough time.  Why have a six-member team if five of them don’t really act as anything other than placeholders?  The only person who had any backstory was, of course, Dom (Leo), but even his did not play a big part.  I was also very disappointed in Ellen Page’s character Ariadne, who I felt had so much potential at the beginning of the movie, but who fell into a device for Dom to reveal his secrets.

When a movie is like this – as in, it has some strange new technology or idea, this technology needs to be firmly cemented in believeable roots.  Two movies that do this well are The Matrix and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; both include introductions into the mechanics of the world through cleverly included explanations to newcomer characters, and at the same time, the audience.  Inception fails to do this; it sets in place a series of rules, but those rules are so soon shown to be so fragile and flexible that the entire world topples – by the middle of the film, I no longer trusted what I had learned in the beginning.  This clumsiness is unacceptable, especially in a film with such a good concept.

But yes, Inception gave a good thriller ride. I also have to admit that there were some good details.  The idea of totems, for example, lent a small ring of believability and solidity to the concept of dreaming.

By the end, everyone in the audience was leaning forward.  As a side note, I realize that it is really fun and exciting to go see a movie very soon after the opening, so that the movie theater is packed.  (During the first day The Dark Knight was out, my friend got tickets and took me; the audience cheered that the scene where Batman rides his motorcycle up the wall.)

Overall – 2/5 for heavy-handed acting, dry characters, and inelegant handling of technology.

Best regards,


(A side note – I do not think Inception is Dom’s dream: if his life were a dream, then Mal would have escaped it through her death, and would have woken him up.  Therefore, the whole movie’s ‘real world’ is indeed, a ‘real world’ and not a dream.)

Categories: Movie Reviews

Movies I am excited for! (Apple)

Never Let Me Go – with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan!  This is one of my favorite books, and Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my all-time favorite authors.  Sept 15 2010.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – with Daniel Craig and Carey Mulligan.  I am super excited to see this dynamic.  Also, I love Daniel Craig.  2012.

Harry Potter – who doesn’t love Harry Potter? Nov 2010; July 2011.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — Orion’s Take

A girl, missing for the past forty years.  An investigative journalist, falsely accused of libel.  The eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo.

This is a thriller.

This is a story concerned with character, with human psychology.

It is perfectly fair to say that without the magnificent performances of the two lead actors (Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace) this movie would not have been even half as interesting.  Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) models the soul of the journalist so well — the viewer can see him becoming engrossed in the case, can see the ways his journalistic pride drives him to seek the truth, and in some instances, causes him to blunder.  But Rapace’s performance is the heart of this film.  Lisbeth Salander is twisted, flawed, brilliant, and strangely beautiful.  She is a supreme investigator, who finds pleasure in the thrill of the hunt.  She is also a broken little girl who has been abused so much that she cannot function socially.  And yet there is fire left in her, fire enough so that when her guardian tries to take advantage of her, she responds brutally and efficiently.

Which brings me to the next point: there are several scenes in this movie that are very visceral.  Even I, who usually will not flinch at violence (though I will always flinch during awkward moments), had to look away once or twice during certain scenes.  But these scenes aren’t violent for the sake of being violent.  Keep in mind that the title of this film (and the book) in Swedish is Män som hatar kvinnor, which means Men Who Hate Women in English.  The film explores the psychology of these men who hate women in great depth, and it’s a fascinating, if disturbing journey.

I have two small complaints about this movie: firstly, it is just a little too long.  The 152 minutes could have been tightened to 132 minutes without losing any essential information.  Though I do feel like watching the two protagonists for 20 more minutes was pretty pleasant.  My second complaint has to do with the romantic connection between Salander and Blomkvist, which I saw as a little forced at first.  There was no real buildup which might be expected given Salander’s character, I suppose, but I can’t see Blomkvist diving into that kind of relationship so easily.  I do feel that the later exploration of their relationship was well done, however, and can’t complain too much about that either.

The bottom line?  This is a superb psychological thriller, which relies on its characters to drive the story.  This is a good choice, since the two main actors explore their characters in an excellent fashion.

4/5 Waffles


I was letting this stew in my head before posting, but apparently thinking before I post makes me “lazy.”  Well whatever.  I’ve cut out the synopsis since I’m assuming you read Apple’s review first.  Also, I DIDN’T READ APPLE’S POST BEFORE WRITING THIS.

Categories: Movie Reviews