Sunday, July 25, 2010

What You'll Want to be Watching:

                                       The Walking Dead
     Anyone with any intelligence about television drama knows that AMC is quickly becoming number two to HBO in relation to show quality and entertainment level. The station has the best show on T.V. right now, Breaking Bad, and one of the best shows on T.V. right now, Mad Men. Both are heading into their fourth seasons within the next year. AMC has two new shows on the horizon for this summer/fall: the intriguing Rubicon, which centers around an analyst at a national think tank who discovers that his employers may be part of a secret society that manipulates world-changing events, and The Walking Dead, which I am very excited about because it looks like one of the first worthwhile shows based on the popular zombie film genre. The zombie genre holds a special place in my heart recently. The unbelievable 28 Days Later redefined the class for a newer generation, and the amazingly written (adding the perfect jabs and homages to past "Z word" films) Shaun of the Dead is my favorite comedy in the history of my 20+ years of film watching. Could The Walking Dead become one of my favorite television shows? With the talent and interesting source material involved, it is certainly possible.
     Some old fogies would argue that a show or movie with zombies isn't worth laying their eyes on if the zombies can sprint and be nimble like a cougar on crystal meth. Luckily for both parties (the old fogies and the new, more impatient generation), these zombies are kind of the best of both worlds. Frank Darabont, the writer and director of this show (while also being the writer and director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist [all, coincidentally, Stephen King adaptations]), states that these zombies are both: "After they eat they're a little dopey, you can walk by them...but if they're hungry you're prey, and they're very dangerous." Lethargic after a meal? Sounds realistic, like myself after getting an omelet at IHOP. The show itself is based off a black and white comic book that started back in 2003 and is still in production today. The story is centered around Rick Grimes, a small-town police officer in Kentucky, along with other family members and partners in the little village trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. I just hope that the characters know the one basic technique for killing them: by removing the head...or destroying the brain. If they don't, it could really exacerbate things for them. Entertainment this fall is looking more and more badass as the days go by. Coming in September, we have Boardwalk Empire. Coming in October, we have The Walking Dead, and we can all finally survive the zombie apocalypse from the comfort of our couches and blankets, on a week to week basis.


Monday, July 19, 2010

The Perception on Inception

     If you didn't see Inception over the opening weekend, don't read any further and go out and see it, then come back to read this review. I'll try not to give away too much, but in a film as complex and layered as this, giving away almost anything is too much.

     The year 2010 can be a depressing time for film fans: to see a film in the theater, you have to shell out upwards of $10 for a ticket ($15 for IMAX), and a lot of the time the films are unoriginal and unmotivated, plodding along with a plot that usually is predictable or pretentious. Although there are many directors that I love (and still come up with new and exciting ideas to put out there), there are three that thoroughly surprise me every time one of their babies is birthed onto the big screen. One is Tarantino (enough said there). Another is Paul Thomas Anderson, whose wonderful Magnolia and There Will Be Blood rank among my absolute favorites. And then there is British director Christopher Nolan, whom I have loved since first taking the wild backwards trip that is Memento. This past weekend's Inception is his latest (and possibly greatest) film to date. And that's saying a fucking lot. Fellow Blogger and avid film fan Mark Magee told me that some are saying that Nolan is saving Hollywood, film by film. It's impossible to disagree: Inception can be viewed two different ways: a science fiction mind bender with thrilling action sequences, or an adrenaline-fueled action movie with a thinking man's touch. Either way, it works, and it is the best time I have had at the theater in a very long time.
     Here's where things get tricky: if you ignored the spoiler warning above, I highly suggest that you skip to the last paragraph so you do not learn any of the plot points of the film. At its basic form, Inception is about dream vs. reality. Technology has advanced enough that people can enter your dreams to steal ideas from your subconscious, which ends up being a form of mind rape. There's an "extractor", a person who enters a dream to ultimately steal an idea (usually in the form a document or object found in a safe or a bank vault within the dream). There's an "architect", who gets trained to manipulate the landscape of the dream to make it easier for the extractors (sort of like a mind version of SimCity). There's also a "forger", who can switch identities inside the dream to also aid the extractors. Others help the process in different ways as well. Extractors are well trained and can generally steal the idea without much trouble. Their one last job is a bit different though. Instead of extracting an idea, they have to plant an inception. It is in this that the characters' trouble lies. Placing an idea is much harder, as the the dreamer has to believe that he/she came up with the idea themselves, which requires some precise emotional and relationship manipulation.
     By far, as we who have seen the film know, the coolest part was the layers upon layers of dreams building and crumbling within one another during the inception job. To construct this story is brilliant--to have it play so precisely and amazingly on film, with all of the dreams connecting and dissipating around the characters is insane genius. I can't think of any film in recent memory that had me so captivated emotionally while at the same time being on the edge of my seat from the non-stop roller coaster ride (aided absolutely perfectly by Hans Zimmer's haunting score that never, ever quits affecting the viewer). The weightlessness of the van corresponding to the dreamers losing their gravity, the numerous "kicks" to bring them back through the layers, the "totems" that ultimately throw the viewer off for most of the film--these are the ideas we view with exciting precision and tact.
     Inception is the best film of 2010 so far, and there's a decent chance it will be the best film of 2010 come December. Nolan has taken a calculated risk by coming up with an unknown and fairly original property and making it a big-budget blockbuster for action junkies and thinking men/women alike.  The cast is brilliant, the story is complex yet fruitful to finally understand, and the direction and cinematography are absolutely top notch. My only complaint is this: when leaving the theater, I had a sinking feeling that I wouldn't enjoy any form of entertainment this much in a long while. Ultimately, that's actually a pretty damn good feeling to have after the credits roll.     (A)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Netflix Stream This, Bitch!

    Can vulgarity and violence in film be considered art? First, let us define art: "the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance." Of course it's hard to pin down an official definition; art for one can be very different than art for another. Some believe language and the use of it can be art (I do). Listening to Joe Pesci spout off obscenities in Casino and Goodfellas or hearing the word "cunny" slip off the tongue of Titus Pullo in HBO's Rome is art. Just as there is art to be found in the violence of films like Fargo and shows like Showtime's Dexter, where Dexter Morgan creates beautiful recreations of blood spatter using red strings. Why this discussion of art, you may ask? Well, the British film Bronson, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, is most definitely art at its most primal, disgusting form. The film, about the United Kingdom's most dangerous criminal/prisoner, shows us the life of a psycho who spends most of his years performing street fights and prison fights. The portrayal by Tom Hardy (who plays Bronson) is violence and vulgarity as performance art, just as Malcolm McDowell did years ago with A Clockwork Orange
     Bronson is the coolest, most entertaining film that I have witnessed on Netflix Instant Watch in a long, long time. As I have stated before, it is about a (real life) prominent criminal in the United Kingdom. He has spent 34 years of his life in prison, 30 of which have been spent in solitary confinement. He has moved through at least 120 different prisons. He compares prison to a hotel room; in other words, he loves it. Much of the movie is spent on the reasons he is sent to prison (robbing a post office and jewelry store), and much of it is spent inside the prison, where more than occasionally he lathers himself up so he'll be harder to grab when he tries to beat the shit out of inmates and the prison guards. (Note for the ladies: I haven't seen this much penis in a film since Shaved and Dangerous back in elementary school.) Much of the violence and vulgarity is performed in slow-mo with classical music playing over the speakers, adding a surrealist feel to the concerto of blood spurting from people's faces and the word "cunt" spewing from Bronson's mouth. The film is essentially a showcase for the unbelievable acting talent of it's lead star, Tom Hardy. The guy absolutely transformed himself into this deranged, sick, hilarious man. Compare the two pictures I have provided in this incredibly well-written blog entry. It's the same guy. He is Bronson, physically and mentally. But above all, the film surprised me, which unfortunately doesn't happen in cinema enough nowadays (a fact that better change when I watch Inception at the IMAX next weekend). It's a brutal look at a very intriguing character and a visceral film about the concept and consequences of violent behavior.