Guardians of the box office: My most anticipated movies for summer 2017

636214970366849896-LUP-14842-R (1)Summer has long been the prime season for studios to release their biggest and best special-effects bonanzas. Which is why it’s been interesting to see spring and late fall also emerging as key times to release massive hits (such as last year’s “Doctor Strange” and this year’s live action “Beauty and the Beast”). Although we may continue to see this balance shift in the years ahead, summer is still a big time for blockbusters, with a major movie coming out pretty much every weekend between now and August. Here are the ones I’m most looking forward to this year:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5)

It’s hard to believe that when the first Guardians movie came out in 2014, it was an underdog and rumored to be Marvel’s first potential flop. Now, the sequel is the headliner for the summer movie season and likely the biggest blockbuster of the year, aside from Star Wars: Episode VIII. I don’t know a lot about the plot of this one (I want to be surprised), but I couldn’t resist peeking at Rotten Tomatoes to see what its score was. It sounds like this one is really fun, zany, and humorous, although it’s lacking that special surprise factor the first one had, since nobody knew what to expect that time around. It’s my most anticipated movie of the summer, and I’m hoping Star-Lord and crew won’t let me down (and will bring along another awesome soundtrack of retro tunes).

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26)

I have a soft spot for the first three Pirates movies, even though the second and third movies were rather polarizing. But the fourth just didn’t have the same magic, and it felt like more of a cash-grab than a film that needed to be made. Perhaps I’m simply falling for the hype again, but I’m actually pretty excited about the fifth one. The trailers have been fun, and it looks like they actually are trying to do something different, by pulling in Will and Elizabeth Turner’s now grown-up son. I’m actually hoping Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow will be more of a supporting character in this one, which could help avoid the feeling that Disney is just retreading old ground.


Wonder Woman (June 2)

The DC Cinematic Universe has struggled to escape from the shadow cast by Marvel’s own cinematic universe and Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, the Dark Knight trilogy. But I am really, really rooting for “Wonder Woman” to succeed. We’re overdue for a female superhero movie (Marvel, please green-light that Black Widow solo film!), and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman stole all the scenes she appeared in during last year’s “Batman v. Superman.” “Wonder Woman” has all the right ingredients — great story, great cast, great concept (traveling back to World War I) — I just hope all those elements come together onscreen.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7)

Spider-Man will return to the big screen this summer, this time as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (sort of). While I think Sony has rebooted Spider-Man far too many times in too short a time frame, I loved Tom Holland’s cameo as the character in “Captain America: Civil War.” I also think getting Robert Downey Jr. to appear as Iron Man in an extended cameo was a smart move. I hope this film sticks to a smaller scale and highlights the character’s high school experience; at least it appears to be skipping the origin story we’ve already seen twice!


War for the Planet of the Apes (July 14)

I always kind of forget about this franchise, which makes me feel bad because the past two installments have been excellent, thought-provoking films. They’re great examples of action films that also work on a deeper philosophical level. This next chapter will see the balance of power shift even more towards the apes in their battle against the humans. Plus, having Woody Harrelson join the crew is always a bonus!

Dunkirk (July 21)

After just wrapping up the Christopher Nolan movie blog-a-thon, I’m definitely in the mood for a new Nolan movie! I’m especially curious as this World War II drama is such a departure from what Nolan has done in the past. One of the things I appreciate most about him is that he always seems to want to challenge himself as a director and take on new subject matter. This should be a really intense movie to see on the big screen.

I’m also keeping these other movies on my radar for the summer: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” (May 12); “Alien: Covenant” (May 19); “The Mummy” (June 9); “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (July 21); and “The Dark Tower” (Aug. 4).

So, what movies are you most looking forward to this summer? What will be the biggest hit, and the biggest flop?

Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon: ‘Interstellar’ (Week 7)

558717Well folks, we’ve come to the final week of the Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon! We’ll be wrapping things up with his most recent film, “Interstellar.” Thank you again to my husband, Aaron, for joining me on this blog-a-thon; I might have to invite him back to talk about Nolan’s new movie, “Dunkirk,” which is coming out this summer. 😉

“Interstellar” takes place at some point in the not-so-distant future, as humanity faces a global crisis and the threat of extinction from disease and famine. NASA has been operating off the grid and recruits a farmer and former pilot named Joseph “Coop” Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to join a top-secret mission. Coop and several other explorers will venture into a mysterious wormhole that could transport them to other planets capable of sustaining life. It’s a dangerous gamble, and also a mission that requires extreme sacrifice: due to the altered passage of time in the wormhole and on these other worlds, Coop’s children could be elderly by the time he returns to Earth — if he ever returns at all.

“Interstellar” is actually my husband’s all-time favorite film, so I’ll let him go first! Also fair warning: spoilers ahead!

Aaron’s thoughts

I’ll just say right now that “Interstellar” is my favorite movie bar none. I remember the first time I watched it. It was right after the wife and I got married. We hadn’t moved into our new place yet and were sleeping on a mattress on the floor. We Red Boxed the movie one of those nights and watched it on my laptop. It blew me away. My opinion of it has held firm through multiple viewings.

So why is it my favorite? First, I’ve always been fascinated with space travel. “Interstellar” tackled that subject without being A.) a war movie (“Starship Troopers”), B.) a survival movie (“Apollo 13”), C.) an extraterrestrial movie (“Alien”), or D.) a love story (“Passengers”) — which is impressive. No aliens, no guns, few action scenes, and no budding romances. Just a story of endurance and determination through adversity.

I love that the story is cosmic in scope, but really focuses mostly on human relations through the whole thing. You’ve got the tension between Cooper and fellow crew member Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway). The abandonment grief that Coop’s daughter Murphy bears. The resignation of his son Tom. There’s the cold scientism of Professor Brand (Michael Cain) and Dr. Mann (Matt Damon). Plus you’ve got two robots that have more personality than most persons in other films.

It was also refreshing to see a movie take space physics seriously for once. I almost put “Gravity” in this category, but each time I do I remember the ridiculousness of George Clooney’s death scene and repent. The most obvious example of this is how they portray time dilation. I like how that was not only accounted for, but how the movie was built around it. Nolan did a great job creating powerful scenes showcasing what effects relative time could have on people. The scene where Cooper visits his daughter as she dies of old age while he isn’t even 50 is a tearjerker every time. Her sobbing line where she says she knew he’d come back “because my daddy told me so” is powerful and on the nose without being unduly milked. The scene is short, and benefits from its own brevity.

This probably isn’t bantered around as much, but I also really like how the movie takes on scientism. Who are the only villains in the film? It’s not nature. The black hole is powerful and dangerous but the protagonist’s struggle isn’t really against it. Their struggle is against Mann and Cain’s Brand. Both of them are out to “save the species” but are willing do all kinds of violence against the ones they claim to be saving. Throughout the movie Mann talks about the human race as if it were anything other than itself. He might as easily be talking about saving a certain species of tree or an endangered molerat. Mann displays all sorts of knowledge about basic human drives but is clueless about what makes a good person. The people who end up saving the day are not those who are willing to lie and kill in order to “save the species” but those whose profound love for other specific humans makes them unwilling to make that sacrifice.

I’ll talk briefly about the ending, because that’s always a point of contention. I’m okay with it. I think it’s ambitious, like the rest of the movie, but maybe not what I would have done. In general, I’m okay with protagonists sacrificing themselves to complete an objective (i.e. how “Passengers” should have ended and no, I’m not going to forgive it). If there were another way to get the data to Murphy, I’d probably have picked that. That being said, the idea that Coop is Murphy’s ghost is pretty cool and the ending stays true to the theme throughout the movie that, once past the event horizon, nothing inside a black hole can get out and that it requires something that can transcend dimensions to relay a message outside of a black hole. I definitely don’t think the five-dimensional beings have to be humans, as Coop says more often than I’m comfortable with. I also don’t necessarily like this whole “my love is quantifiable” junk. That whole “love transcends dimensions” line sounds more like straw grasping than anything else. All that being said, I’m okay with the ending

“Interstellar” is so cool. No movie is perfect, but most movies don’t even try. I really think Nolan tried to make a perfect space exploration movie, and he came real close. Kudos to him.

Interstellar astronauts explore new planet

Ashley’s thoughts

One of the things I admire most about Nolan as a director is how he constantly seems to be challenging himself and pushing himself in new creative directions. “Interstellar” — a sprawling epic about space travel — is one of his most ambitious films so far. It’s not a flawless film, but it is breathtaking and moving and beautiful.

One of the criticisms I’ve seen about Nolan in the past is that some say his movies come across as too cool and emotionless. That isn’t really a problem I have with his movies; his films have a certain aesthetic, and that’s what makes him distinctive as a director. Still, this is probably one of his most emotional films, highlighting Cooper’s sacrifice — basically giving up a normal life with his children so he can save the human race. The scene where Cooper watches through years’ worth of videos from his children is always heartbreaking; while he’s barely aged, many years have passed for them, and he’s missed important milestones, like the birth of his first grandchild. He breaks down in tears, and McConaughey completely sells this scene.

And speaking of McConaughey, I really like him in this role. His drawl and everyman portrayal make him easy to relate to, and this helps ground the movie as it ventures into the far reaches of speculative science. He is the heart and soul of this movie.

“Interstellar’s” cinematography is simply gorgeous; I love the wide, sweeping shots of deep space, the mystery and wonder of the black hole, and the other worlds that Cooper and his crew members explore. These other planets share some elements of Earth geography, so they don’t feel too unrealistic, yet they’re also clearly “otherworldy.” Although it might have been kind of interesting to see hints of extraterrestrial life on some of these worlds, I think that would have added too much complexity to a film that is already fairly long and complex.

Clocking in at almost 170 minutes, I think “Interstellar” could have been trimmed down some, although in Nolan’s defense none of the scenes feel like fluff or filler added merely to pad the film’s runtime. And I also have to agree with Aaron’s statement about the “love transcends dimensions” conversation in the film. Normally I’m a pretty sentimental person who enjoys themes about love and friendship in movies (I secretly tear up in that scene from “Guardians of the Galaxy” where they all become a surrogate family and join hands to save Peter Quill from being consumed by the Infinity Stone). But the speech that Dr. Brand makes about the power of love and how it can be a quantifiable force is just too much. The events of the film already express this concept without it needing to be spelled out in the dialogue.

I actually don’t mind the ending either, and I’ve appreciated it more as time goes on. The film seems pretty scientifically plausible up until the point where Cooper ejects from his ship and drifts through the wormhole, falling into a mysterious “tesseract” that allows him to communicate with his daughter in the past. While Nolan could have easily gone with a more grounded ending, I appreciate that he was willing to take a risk and try for something outside the box. It does highlight that we still don’t know a lot about the mysteries of the universe — or what could be hiding inside a black hole.

“Interstellar” is a powerful, thought-provoking movie that took Nolan to a new frontier as a film maker. I didn’t get a chance to see it in IMAX when it was running in theaters, but I really wish I would have. Hopefully humanity will continue to be inspired to keep exploring the stars!

Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ (Week 6)

CaptureNext up on my husband Aaron and I’s Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon project is the final Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises.” This is actually the first Nolan film I reviewed as a blogger, back in 2012. I remember the hype being really high for this movie, and some fans didn’t feel it lived up to its highly-praised predecessor, “The Dark Knight.” What were our thoughts after watching this film again several years after its release? Warning: Spoilers abound!

Ashley’s thoughts

I’ve talked about this on my blog before, but I actually think “The Dark Knight Rises” is a better film than “The Dark Knight.” I know this isn’t the most popular opinion 😉 but to me “The Dark Knight Rises” feels like a more emotionally satisfying film.

Nolan’s final Batman movie finds Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) living as a recluse after he allows Batman to become the scapegoat for Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s crimes. However, the threat of a new terrorist called Bane (Tom Hardy) motivates him to put on the Bat suit again…only to be utterly broken by Bane and tossed into Bane’s prison pit. He has to find the strength both to climb out of the pit and return to Gotham to save the city one last time.

One of the main criticisms I’ve heard about “The Dark Knight Rises” is that Bane isn’t as dynamic a villain as the Joker. Yes, sometimes Bane’s voice effect is a little annoying and would have been better if they’d made it sound less garbled. Still, I think Bane was the right choice for this film, especially as we later learn that he is actually working for Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, the main villain from “Batman Begins.” This really brings The Dark Knight trilogy full circle and highlights the film’s themes of battling your demons and not allowing yourself to be held captive to the past.

I also really liked some of the new side characters introduced in this film. Although I was definitely skeptical when I heard Anne Hathaway was cast as Catwoman, I thought she did a fantastic job, and she and Bale had great chemistry. She’s a worthy adversary and later ally for Batman. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is another strong addition to the franchise, playing a young police officer named John Blake (we later learn his full legal name is Robin John Blake). Part of me still wants to see a spin-off film with Gordon-Levitt taking on Batman’s mission (perhaps as the character Nightwing?), but perhaps it’s better that the franchise concluded with a more open ending, especially as the DC Cinematic Universe is moving in a different direction.

“The Dark Knight Rises” isn’t a flawless film. It runs a little too long and the script could have been tightened more. It’s not as gritty or realistic as “The Dark Knight” and includes some last-minute saves and that often-seen plot device, a ticking time bomb. However, I love how film critic Richard Roeper sums up the film; he calls it “a majestic, gorgeous, brutal, and richly satisfying epic” — and I completely agree.

“The Dark Knight Rises” shows that there is light, and there is hope beyond the darkness. It also has one of my very favorite moments ever in a superhero film, when Batman finally finds the strength to face his fears and climb up out of Bane’s prison pit. It’s such a powerful moment, highlighted by wonderful music from Hans Zimmer. It’s a great metaphor for finding victory over the struggles that hold you back.

I also love the ending of “The Dark Knight Rises,” and I think it’s a great conclusion to the franchise. I love the joy on Commissioner Gordon’s face as he discovers the repaired Bat signal and realizes Batman is still alive. I love how Bruce Wayne reveals the Bat cave to John Blake, inviting him to become Gotham’s next vigilante. And last but not least, I love how Alfred looks across the café in Florence and sees that Bruce is still alive, starting a new life with Selina Kyle. Alfred and Bruce don’t speak to each other, and they don’t have to. A smile and a nod is enough.


Aaron’s thoughts

“The Dark Knight Rises” was always going to be a tough movie to pull off. Following in the footsteps of the much-lauded “The Dark Knight” is not an enviable task. The Joker was a villain performance for the ages and whoever stepped into the role of Bane would inevitably be compared to Heath Ledger’s Joker. “The Dark Knight” had a tightly woven story full of twists and turns that kept focus. It had powerful story climaxes that kept themselves realistic. Hollywood is always committed to one upping itself with sequels and there wasn’t a lot of room to raise the stakes while keeping the story grounded here. “The Dark Knight Rises” almost made it. It’s an excellent movie, but it shot a little too high.

What did “The Dark Knight Rises” do right? A lot. For starters, I appreciated the nod to the fact that a person can’t be a superhero for long without doing incredible damage to their body (Wayne has virtually no cartilage left, a scarred kidney, skull contusions, etc). Top that off with a timely moment of levity where the doctor says that, given his condition, he can’t recommend Mr. Wayne go heli-skiing.

Another thing they did well, that I noticed more this time, was the incorporation of the “rise” chant used by the prisoners when someone attempts the climb. In all the moments of peril where it’s do-or-die, the chant starts small and keeps growing, adding tension and providing a recurrent theme that heroes have to rise. The pit overall was a great symbol, as well as a great plot point. The metaphors associated with it are endless.

I liked how they kept the same visual design for all the machines Batman uses (bike, car, and plane-helicopter thing). The Bat Plane is interesting, powerful and used just enough without overstepping and making it a crutch or a gimmick. The story of a villain driven by a powerful ideology who manages to make a totalitarian state within a state is interesting (and a deliberate nod to the “No Man’s Land” storyline in the comics).

Speaking of villain, we have to give Bane his own section here. Bane is not only good, but an upgrade from the comic book version of himself. In the comics, he’s all the things he is in the movie, smart, strong, patient, etc. But in “The Dark Knight Rises” another dimension is added. He’s a passionate, charismatic ideologue. Though it’s never given a name, he’s more or less an anarcho-communist (with some Soviet style court theaters thrown in). This gives Nolan an avenue to explore how easily destructive men with violent ideologies can sway people to their side by covering their brutality with shibboleths like “giving back to the people.” Tom Hardy took the lead and ran with it. Though he didn’t have a Heath Ledger-esque performance, I don’t think he could have, given the material he had to work with. Tom Hardy did as well as he could have, and maybe a bit more.

Where did “The Dark Knight Rises” fall short? Mostly, it tried to raise the stakes a little too high. When you start introducing nuclear bombs as the villain’s plot, the ending is more or less foretold (a last second save) because failure would mean, well, the nuclear bomb goes off. This is the problem I have with Superman and such movies. The stakes are so high that anything other than total victory means the total annihilation of humanity or, in this case, Gotham City and everyone in it. If the Joker won, there was still room to come back. If Bane wins, there’s nowhere to go back to. I’d have preferred if they kept it all the same but removed the bomb. Have him find another way to keep government forces off the island and build the tension where the heroic charge of the police is the last real chance to stop him. An all or nothing gambit.

Also the ending doesn’t make much sense. If he wasn’t in the Bat Plane when carrying the bomb, why do they keep showing him in a cockpit as it flies away? Where was he? Is this just imagined? Also, I realize the city wasn’t vaporized but isn’t nuclear fallout a thing? Don’t we have some video games about that? I also realize that Alfred said in his fantasy that he and Bruce don’t talk at the cafe, but really? Just talk. Jeez.

I won’t put Catwoman in the good or bad category. I don’t love her. But I don’t dislike her. They didn’t give her a ridiculously skimpy outfit *coughHalleyBerryCatwowancough.* So that’s nice. She helps the plot along enough to justify her existence and usually has a three-dimensional personality, which is also nice. I still think she distracted from the plot just a little too much and the movie could’ve been well served by being a bit shorter.

TL;DR: It’s a good movie that sets its sights a bit higher than it should. I like it, even with its length.

Song A Day Challenge: My Favorite Soundtracks (Day 5)

For my final selection in the Song A Day Challenge, I knew right away what I had to pick. I couldn’t list my favorite soundtracks without giving a shout-out to “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1”! 🙂

“Guardians” would have been an awesome movie on its own, but the soundtrack full of retro music definitely kicked it up another notch. What makes the “Awesome Mix” even better is that these aren’t just random pop songs stuck in a film; in the movie, these songs are all part of a mixtape that Starlord/Peter Quill’s mother created for him before her death. This makes the soundtrack a lot more personal and impactful.

While there are many great songs included on the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” album, my favorite is probably “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone. This song plays during the opening scene of the movie, where Quill is dancing around the planet on his way to steal an artifact. It’s such a fun scene and does a great job setting the tone for the rest of the film:

I’m also partial to the slightly melancholy “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc:

Well, that’s it for the Song A Day Challenge! Thanks again to Bradscribe for nominating me to take on the Song A Day Challenge!

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Song A Day Challenge: My Favorite Soundtracks (Day 4)

The-Dark-Knight-Rises-7_0For day 4 of the Song A Day Challenge, I knew I wanted to pick a track from one of my other favorite film composers, Hans Zimmer. However, Zimmer has written music for so many iconic movies — “Gladiator,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the Dark Knight trilogy, and more — that it was tough to narrow it down to one track.

Since my husband Aaron and I have been working through our Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon project, I decided to go with a song from “The Dark Knight Rises” called “Why Do We Fall?” It’s probably my favorite moment in the whole Dark Knight trilogy, where Bruce Wayne finally summons all his strength and climbs up out of the pit where he’s been imprisoned. I love how the music keeps building and building to this epic finish that really captures Bruce’s triumph over his demons:

Another thing I like about Zimmer as a composer is that he has a very distinctive style and I can almost always pick out his music in a film. Yet even though his music always has a certain sound, I love that he’s willing to experiment, such as the majestically organ-heavy music for “Interstellar” to the quirky, slightly out-of-tune theme for Guy Ritchie’s steampunk “Sherlock Holmes,” in this bonus track:

What are some of your favorite soundtracks from Hans Zimmer?

Thanks again to Bradscribe for nominating me to take on the Song A Day Challenge!

Song A Day Challenge: My Favorite Soundtracks (Day 3)

3092331-maxresdefaultFor day 3 of the Song A Day Challenge, I’m picking a song from the soundtrack to the 2009 Star Trek reboot film by Michael Giacchino. While John Williams will always be my all-time favorite film composer, I think Giacchino is my favorite of the next generation of film composers. I really appreciate what he was able to do with the music for the rebooted Trek franchise; like the movies themselves, he was able to honor what’s come before while also giving the score a fresh and exciting feel.

My favorite track is called “Enterprising Young Men,” which I believe plays as Kirk catches sight of the Enterprise in space for the first time. It’s upbeat, exciting, and captures that sense of wonder the Trek franchise is known for:

Interestingly, just as Star Trek director J.J. Abrams made the jump to a certain galaxy far, far away, Giacchino has also scored music for the Star Wars franchise. The first time I watched “Rogue One,” the music didn’t actually stand out to me all that much. But as I listened to the soundtrack later on at home, I’ve come to appreciate the music more. I’ve heard Giacchino had a very brief time to put together the music, and it would have been interesting to see what he could have done with more time. But there are some really lovely, emotional themes in “Rogue One,” such as the one from this bonus track:

Thanks again to Bradscribe for nominating me to take on the Song A Day Challenge!

Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon: ‘Inception’ (Week 5)

inception-explainedNext up on my husband Aaron and I’s Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon project is “Inception.” I’ve always found it interesting that Nolan decided to take a break between his Batman films and work on other projects, instead of filming the Batman movies all in a row. He released “The Prestige” between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” and then “Inception” between “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” Some of the themes from “The Prestige” carry over into “The Dark Knight” (they’re both in the darker group of Nolan films, and feature a good man corrupted by a tragic event), and some of the themes from “Inception” carry over into “The Dark Knight Rises” (they’re both in the more hopeful group of Nolan films, and feature a tragic hero letting go of a painful past). But that’s probably a topic for a different blog post… 😉

Without further ado, here’s what we thought after our “Inception” re-watch! We also have a reversal of last week; I think I’m more enthusiastic about this movie than Aaron is. And fair warning — plenty of spoilers are ahead!

Ashley’s thoughts

I didn’t get to see “Inception” when it was originally released in theaters, but I rented it soon after it came out on DVD. I remember being so blown away by it that I rounded up my family and made them watch it too that same day before I had to return it to Blockbuster (R.I.P. Blockbuster — I still miss those video rental store days sometimes).

“Inception” has a fairly ambitious plot. It’s a sci-fi thriller about a group of “dream thieves” who use technology to infiltrate people’s dreams to steal information. The goal of a dream thief is to sneak in and out of a person’s subconscious without them realizing they’ve experienced something other than a normal dream. The very best dream thieves can create layers of dreams — a dream within a dream within a dream — to disguise the fact the person’s mind is being invaded, and they create complex, detailed dream worlds with nothing but imagination and the power of thought.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb, a dream “extractor” who specializes in corporate espionage. However, he is haunted by the death of his wife (Marion Cotillard); her presence fills his subconscious and interferes with his ability to perform his job. He decides to take on one final job that will be his toughest assignment yet: instead of extraction he will attempt the much more difficult “inception” — planting an idea in the subject’s mind while having them believe the idea is their own.

With less skilled hands at the helm, “Inception” could have easily come off as a hokey film. The concept does require you to suspend some disbelief as it doesn’t fully explain the “science” that allows dream thieves to do their work. However, Christopher Nolan takes the concept very seriously and gets his audience to do the same. The tightly-written script and eye-popping visuals pulled me into this world and made me think about my own perception of reality.

I’m not surprised “Inception” won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects; the film would be fascinating to watch even with no sound on, with set pieces ranging from city blocks folding in on themselves to the famous gravity-defying fight in the hotel hallway.

Overall, I don’t really have any complaints about the film, other than that it made the most impact the first time I watched it. The suspense isn’t quite as high once you know what’s coming. I really enjoyed the film’s concept of dream invaders who can create these fascinating imaginary worlds. Though the film’s ending isn’t a gut punch like “The Prestige,” it definitely ends on an eerie, thought-provoking note, blurring the line between dreams and reality. Like “The Matrix,” this film always makes me pause for a moment to wonder, “What I’m perceiving now is actually real…right?”

Aaron’s thoughts

Man, as far as my basic taste profile goes for films, “Inception” has everything going for it. Nolan? Check. Trippy? Check. Multiple interpretations of events? Check. Ambitious? Check. The list goes on. If you just looked at a list of what I like in movies and had to recommend something to me, “Inception” would be near the top of the list. Despite that, for me, “Inception” is fairly unique among the Nolan movies in that I’m not sure how I feel about it. I like it when looking at the big picture but it feels a bit schizoid. It tries to be a deep, trippy, mind-delving experience and a run-’n-gun heist movie at the same time. I really like the first part, but parts of the second fall flat.

Let’s start with what I like here, because there’s plenty to like. Nolan really nails the power of ideas and how they take root. The way Dom Cobb performs inception on his wife Mal with the spinning top is so brilliant, and so powerful in its simplicity, that I honestly think the subplot of him and Mal is more compelling than the main storyline. I wouldn’t say this is because the main story is bad, but because of how Nolan so masterfully interweaves the interplay of memory, guilt, the subconscious, and the sticking power of an implanted idea.

Beyond that, Nolan does a great job nailing the alternate reality feel of dreams, usually (more on that later). Each layer of the dream has its own distinct feel and the way that the dreamers interact with their bodies a layer up plays out smartly. It’s not always consistent, but I don’t expect it to be (for example, if inner ear function is retained by the sedative, why weren’t all the people in the van woken up by the falling sensation while it was rolling?).

The visuals of the movie are spot on, but that goes without saying. I love how all the characters involved in the heist have a unique personality that allows them to not only demonstrate different responses to problems, but also allows them to play off each other. The perpetually simmering argument between Eames (Tom Hardy) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the perfect example of this. Nolan did a good job translating the different specialties of thieves into the dream world with forgers, architects, chemists, etc.

So what falls flat for me? I never thought I’d say this but, there are too many guns and too many action sequences. People shooting at each other, while flashy, doesn’t advance the ideas in a movie. In a movie like “Dredd” (which I love), there aren’t too many ideas to advance, and the action sequences don’t leave you feeling like you were missing something. Here though, every minute consumed with flying bullets is a minute that could’ve been spent exploring the intricacies of a dream world. They could’ve been used for the fantastic character dialogue that Nolan is so well known for. They could’ve been used to further explore the themes of memory and guilt. The action sequences could’ve at least played more on the concept of the maze and paradoxes, which, if I recall, it only did once with the infinite staircase. The shooting grounded the movie and made those parts feel less like a dream and more like “The Fast and the Furious.”

All in all, I wish “Inception” had been even weirder. I wish it had gone off the cliff into the dream theme instead of trying to keep things on the level with gunfights that are all too common in movies today. I still like it, I just always come away feeling that it could’ve been great instead of just good.

Song A Day Challenge: My Favorite Soundtracks (Day 2)

tron-legacy-daft-punkFor day 2 of the Song A Day Challenge, I’ve selected a song from the “Tron: Legacy” soundtrack by Daft Punk. I actually don’t own the “Tron: Legacy” film; it’s entertaining to watch but definitely falls short of what it could have been. However, I really, really love the soundtrack because it’s what first introduced me to French electronic music duo Daft Punk.

I thought Daft Punk did a really great job transferring their signature style to a full-length film score. The music has a very cool, futuristic vibe. Here’s one of my favorite songs from the soundtrack (the music actually gets going about 0:45):

I know I’m also supposed to be sticking to film scores, but here’s a bonus track from my favorite Daft Punk album, the disco-infused “Random Access Memories”:

Thanks again to Bradscribe for nominating me to take on the Song A Day Challenge!

Song A Day Challenge: My Favorite Soundtracks (Day 1)

wallup.netThank you to Bradscribe for nominating me to take on the Song A Day Challenge! The rules are you have to post a song a day for five consecutive days. Since I love movies so much, I thought it would be fun to do songs from film soundtracks.

My first song isn’t much of a surprise: “The Imperial March” from “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” 😉 John Williams is my all-time favorite film composer, and it was tough to pick out my favorite song from his Star Wars movie scores. But I finally had to go with “The Imperial March.” It’s a simple but powerful song that conveys the might and threat of the Empire. The Star Wars movies wouldn’t have the same impact without Williams’ iconic score.

Let me know if you’d like to join in the Song A Day Challenge; I’d love to hear your favorite songs as well!

Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon: ‘The Dark Knight’ (Week 4)

The-Dark-KnightI realized I’ve been neglecting my Christopher Nolan blog-a-thon project (my last post from the blog-a-thon was “The Prestige” back in February — oops!). My husband and I have been watching and reviewing Nolan’s movies together but I got a bit distracted by all the new movies in March. Since I’d like to wrap up the blog-a-thon before the summer movie season starts, I thought I’d better get on that. 😉 Next up on Nolan’s filmography is the middle film in his Batman trilogy, “The Dark Knight.” This is one of my husband’s favorite superhero movies, so I’ll let him go first!

Aaron’s thoughts

“The Dark Knight.” It was legend from the moment it came out. This is when Christopher Nolan really came into form. Finally we were finished with Batman origin stories and were ready for a full story, and boy did he deliver.

In terms of raw story telling prowess, this is the untouched masterpiece of superhero films. Nothing even comes close. “The Dark Knight Rises” was good, but wasn’t on its level. “Watchmen” was good, but fell short at key areas. “The Dark Knight” is focused in theme and very person driven rather than action driven.

The Joker truly is the heart of the whole movie. If he had been just a little less powerful the whole thing would’ve fallen apart. But Heath Ledger had the performance of a lifetime. Aided by top-notch writing, he became the foundation for the whole thing.

The Joker is such an interesting villain because his plan is so different from other villain plans. Ronan the Accuser from “Guardians of the Galaxy” hates the Nova Corps because he’s blue and has a hammer. The Joker has a plan but it’s more than “blow up a hospital” or “kill the hero.” As much as he rails against schemers, his mission is narrow in vision, even if it spills over into a wide variety of plots.

The Joker wants to corrupt. He wants Batman to break his one rule. He wants Harvey to fall from grace. He wants people to panic and kill each other. Everything he says is calculated to inflict the most possible damage and confusion in the person he’s talking to. Why? Because then he can show the world that he’s not so different from a normal person. As he says, “I’m just ahead of the curve.”

The character drama created by people succumbing to the corrupting influence of the Joker makes a consistent theme where the viewer is forced to confront the choices of the heroes. In some circumstances, would it be okay for Batman to kill someone? Certainly no one would have blamed him if he had just let the Joker fall to his death at the end. And what about that blatant abuse of the cell phone sonar that he used to find the Joker? That would be an absolute terror in the hands of a police state but is it okay in this instance? It saved hundreds of lives and caught the most dangerous criminal Gotham had ever seen. Should Bruce capitulate to the Joker’s demand to unmask to stop him from killing a person a day?

There’s that constantly lingering question throughout the movie of “but at what cost”? There is no perfect victory against the Joker. To move on, you have to sacrifice a piece. In this sense the Joker has the upper hand. He sees not only his thugs, but himself, as totally expendable. And he knows his opponents don’t think the same way. He knows they’ll drop their plans to catch him at the tiniest threat, and he fully capitalizes on it by never stopping the war of attrition. There’s always another piece being threatened, keeping the focus off of him. His goal isn’t to win the game by the rules. His goal is to destroy so much of what people value that they’ll lose hope and give up.

So far I’ve only really addressed the character of the Joker. But he really is what makes “The Dark Knight” so great. In order to begin to wonder what rules can be broken, you have to be confronted with an evil so immense that the rule breaking seems justified by comparison. But does that put Batman on the Joker’s level?

But I digress, the dialogue in the movie is fantastic. There are so many classic, and frankly prescient, lines that everyone already knows, so I won’t repeat them all but just remind you that they’re there. The filming and the way that light and dark are contrasted is great. The way that the tension is ratcheted up with each terrorist act is great. Heck, they even worked in the joke about the accountant’s plan to retire easy by blackmailing a guy who beats criminals to a pulp as a hobby. But the centrality truly lies in the clash of the immovable object and the unstoppable force. This clash is what makes “The Dark Knight” the best superhero movie ever made.


Ashley’s thoughts

Taken as a whole, Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is a masterpiece. It was a game-changer for the superhero genre and cast a very long shadow, one the current DC Cinematic Universe is still struggling to escape from. However, I know this goes against popular opinion, but “The Dark Knight” is actually my least favorite film in the Dark Knight trilogy. Although I won’t argue with the fact that it’s probably one of the best superhero films ever made (if not THE best), it’s actually too dark for me.

I don’t mind dark superhero movies or TV shows; I love the darker take on the Marvel universe that we’ve seen from the Netflix shows like “Daredevil,” and The CW’s “Arrow” has been knocking it out of the park this season by returning to its darker, grittier roots. Yet for me personally, “The Dark Knight” is just a little too dark and bleak. The Joker is a deeply disturbing villain; Heath Ledger did such a good job with his performance that it’s actually hard for me to watch it. I also felt the movie focused too much on the Joker, at the expense of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s own story arc. We didn’t get to see enough of Batman’s side of the story, and that undercuts the powerful poignancy of Bruce Wayne’s final decision to let Batman be framed as the villain in order to protect the legacy of Gotham’s district attorney Harvey Dent.

And speaking of Harvey Dent…Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Dent is actually my favorite part of this movie. It’s heartbreaking to watch how his fearless idealism is twisted into something evil after the death of his girlfriend Rachel Dawes, the woman both he and Batman love. He eventually becomes the type of criminal he worked so hard to stop. He’s also an interesting contrast to Batman, the white knight to Bruce Wayne’s dark knight. He fights crime in the light in a different way than Batman fights crime in the shadows, yet in the end Dent is the one who’s corrupted by the Joker.

I don’t really have a lot of objective complaints about this movie; it’s just not one that I enjoy watching as much (I’m crazy, I know). 😉 Like I said, it’s definitely more of a personal opinion. I prefer “The Dark Knight Rises” because I felt it portrayed Batman’s journey in a stronger way. I haven’t found too many people who agree with me on that, but you gotta be honest in these reviews, right? 😉

A moment I did really like from “The Dark Knight” is the final act, where the Joker traps two groups of people on boats — one group of civilians and another group of criminals — and gives each of them a detonator to see who will cave first and blow up the other ship to ensure their own survival. In the end, neither boat makes the decision to harm the other. I thought it was a really powerful moment, showing how there are still good people left in the world and people can rise above their circumstances to do the right thing. It shows that Gotham isn’t beyond saving, despite what the Joker believes.

Next up on the Nolan blog-a-thon: Nolan takes a break from Batman to bring us “Inception,” a thriller about dreams.