Friday, July 30, 2010

Addendum to the 60s

Black God White Devil (1964) - Glauber Rocha

As an afterthought I realized that amidst my overview of the 60s I left out a few things. For starters I ignored most of Asian cinema aside from Japan. What we've come to recognize as the definitive Hong Kong martial arts film got its start in the 60s with films by Chang Cheh and King Hu. In mainland China Xie Jin's Two Stage Sisters was one of the earliest films to draw attention to Chinese cinema. Over in Taiwan a host of offbeat films were being released which I've seen far too few of, although I can't recommend The Bride and I enough.

In India Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray continued to make excellent films even if the domestic audience was still ignoring their work in favor of Bollywood spectaculars which were a plenty. Even the Middle East was feeling the spirit of the New Wave. Directors like Egypt's Youssef Chahine were drawing attention to a cinema few were aware of. Iran had its own new wave with films like Gaav and The House is Black. Although begun in the 50s, this was seemingly a whole new continent for cinema goers and thanks to ever increasing festivals and revival houses the work was able to spread to a whole new film conscious audience.

I'm not sure if the Middle East can be considered "third world" by our standards, even in the 60s, but a whole new group of countries were emerging with a unique cinematic voice from parts less economically developed. Ousmane Sembene became forever known as "The Father of African Cinema" when his first feature film Black Girl was released in 1966. Sembene would continue to be the best African born director for the next four decades until his death a few years ago. The Senegal ties to France however indicated just how dependent an African cinema was on outside help. For the first time however Africa and Africans could be depicted by people who were actually African rather than the traditional colonialist slant we're still occasionally burdened with (Blood Diamond anyone?).

Equally volatile were the various film movements of Latin America. Although the first credited Cuban film was by a Russian no less, they did find their own voice particularly with the films of Homberto Solas and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. If Argentina never made another film besides Hour of the Furnaces it would still draw recognition in every film textbook. In addition were films from Venezuala, Chile, and Bolivia. However it was Brazil that would have the most profound impact on cinema. Glauber Rocha alone was a beast of cinema whose four films in the 60s got more and more political and experimental. Like his French counterparts (he appeared in Godard's Wind in the East, and Godard likewise appeared in Rocha's The Lion Has Seven Heads) Rocha was a film critic and used his knowledge of cinema to make the type of films he had not been able to see. Nelson Pereira dos Santos was certainly no slouch and although not as overtly political was the first of the two to gain international attention with his 1963 film Vidas Secas.

Amidst my praising of France, Italy, Britain, and Eastern Europe I left out our German friends. Although their national cinema was in something of a dark abyss internationally with a string of "Heimat" films, times were improving. Led by Alexander Kluge's manifesto (Rocha wrote a similar one directed at Third World Cinema), a new generation of German cinema was born. These directors (all of whom worked from West Germany) made the type of personal cinema akin to their Western European counterparts which found enormous attention at international festivals and little acknowledgment at home. Yet this is when we got the first (and I think best) collaboration from Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Hulliet, and the first works of Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Volker Schlöndorff. Although these directors would find greater recognition and success in the following decade, it was this movement spearheaded by Kluge that helped make a new West German cinema possible.

And well that might do it for now. Australia and New Zealand still hadn't established film centers, and aside from Ingmar Bergman most of Scandinavian cinema were mere footnotes. We're still waiting for a cinema to emerge from Antarctica (well some people might be). So if I've left any more film movements out my apologies, but it was a busy and great decade. Also should point out that I hadn't forgotten about Luis Buñuel whose cinema took him all over the world in the 60s making masterpieces in Spain (Viridiana), Mexico (The Exterminating Angel), and France (Belle du Jour).

Best of the Decade - The Sixties

Well with a self imposed deadline of the end of July we have finally arrived at the end of another long period of research and hair pulling to finish the next decade. This list is much different from the 50s. Here I knew 8/10 of the films that were going on the list and the majority of my revisiting was more jockeying for position. That said I will comfortably say that I find the 60s to be the best decade in cinema history. It seemed like nearly every country was doing their best work, Hollywood being a potential exception. Even documentary and the world of avant-garde/experimental films were achieving greater exposure and peaking artistically. However that's another list entirely. More than any other decade before it the lines between cinema began to blur. Even mainstream Hollywood films started incorporating techniques from experimental cinema and several films made you question whether or not they were fiction at all (Medium Cool, Hour of the Furnaces).

If I were to give an award for the most prosperous national cinema in the decade it would have to go to the Italians. Sure neorealism garnered the majority of international attention, but it was the 60s where more often than not the best films were Italian. In 1960 alone Fellini made La Dolce Vita, Antionioni made L'Avventura, and Visconti made Rocco and His Brothers. Each of these three filmmakers would take radically different paths as the decade progressed. Fellini would turn more and more to the surreal winning over some and alienating others. Antonioni fully realized his own personal style and is considered a modern father of existential cinema. Visconti went from champion of the poor to chronicler of the decadent aristocracy and the grander his films became the more personal they felt. Although Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Seca continued making films in the 60s, some of which were quite excellent, neither failed to capture quite the same lasting attention the other three earned and their films began to feel increasingly out of touch with Italy's new generation. Francesco Rosi, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Marco Bellocchio, Ermanno Olmi, Gillo Pontecorvo, Sergio Leone, and Bernardo Bertolucci all helped to redefine Italian and world cinema with major breakthroughs in the 60s.

The French new wave was alive and well in the 60s, beginning with the release of Godard's Breathless at the dawn of the decade. Godard alone could have filled his own top ten of the 60s list with each film building upon the last and effectively re-writing the very language of cinema. Francois Truffaut was still quite relevant, making arguably his best film Jules and Jim in 1962. Jacques Rivette and Eric Rohmer would soon find their own style and voice albeit in completely different directions. Louis Malle, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, and Robert Bresson continued on the groundwork they laid the previous decade. Newer voices like Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda got in on the action. By the end of the decade however several of the movements founders found themselves dangerously close to becoming the very thing they had set out to destroy and a few (Demy, Malle, Truffaut) were tempted by the almighty Hollywood dollar.

Building upon the breakthroughs made in Poland the previous decade, Eastern Europe hit pay dirt several times over. Miklós Jancsó, Márta Mészáros, and István Szabó helped draw serious attention to Hungarian cinema. Andre Tarkovsky as well as Sergei Paradjanov helped make a personal Soviet cinema that in many ways surpassed the triumphs of the earlier montage school. Poland continued it's impressive run and saw the breakthroughs of directors like Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Roman Polanski, and Jerzy Skolimowski. However Czechoslovakia probably had the shortest and most impressive "new wave" of any country. For roughly four years masterpieces appeared in massive quantities from Czechoslovakia employing some degree of national style of black comedy, wide angle distortions, and subversive stories. Truth be told Czechoslovakia had been making films since the silent era without any long periods of inactivity, and some of the new waves directors had already been active earlier. However with Milos Forman's Black Peter and Jan Nemec's Diamonds of the Night the movement officially drew attention outside of Eastern Europe. The movement peaked when The Shop on Main Street and Closely Watched Trains won back to back foreign language film Oscars. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 the movement was officially dead, but along the way came a remarkable string of films the best of which (The Cremator, Marketa Lazerova, Report on the Party and the Guests, Daisy's) are still being rediscovered.

If Alfred Hitchcock and Laurence Olivier's movement to Hollywood depleted cinema, America returned the favor in the 60s by sending Richard Lester, Joseph Losey, and Stanley Kubrick overseas to shake up a somewhat lagging UK cinema. The American invasion in cinema coincided nicely with the concurrent British invasion in pop music. All three filmmakers produced their greatest work overseas, Richard Lester making a name as the director of the Beatles first two feature films (and only two real Beatles films technically), Losey beginning with The Servant began a string of dark twisted and brilliant offbeat films, Kubrick well if I have to tell you about Kubrick then clearly you shouldn't be reading this blog. Along the way the cycle of angry young man films, or kitchen sink cinema began to make way for a much more zany and offbeat British cinema. Even that movements principal filmmakers like Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson began to lean more towards surrealism.

Japan had a much less publicized new wave that still has trouble being recognized considering the enormous distribution problems films of that period faced. Nagisa Oshima and Shohei Imamura were a two man wrecking crew of Japanese cinema out to shatter every taboo of Japanese cinema and rebelling against all their forefathers had done. There certainly were other directors who got into the mix like Hiroshi Teshigahara, Masahiro Shinoda, and Seijun Suzuki. Not all the old guard faded however, Kurosawa, Ichikawa, and Kobayashi all contributed at least a masterpiece each in the 60s. With the release of Eclipse's Oshima set, as well as Criterion releases for four of Imamura's films from the decade, and god knows how many Suzuki films this period of Japanese cinema is slowly starting to get more widespread attention.

Hollywood had its own minor revolutions as it would nearly every decade. A modern independent film movement was born with films as varied as Jim McBride's David Holtzman's Diary and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Although looking at the list of best picture nominees from the Oscars plenty of attention was still paid to awful over priced epics. Somewhere around 1961 Hollywood issued a memo stating that all musicals now had to be nearly three hours and take themselves way too seriously. So with that West Side Story, Fanny, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Dr. Doolittle, Oliver, Hello Dolly and too many more to name helped make a mockery of a once beloved genre. Sure people will still stand up for several of these films but you will probably never hear me issue anything but outright hostility to Carol Reed's Oliver, Dickens would be spinning in his grave and the fact that this awful piece of garbage won a best picture Oscar the same year 2001 failed to receive a nomination can easily be regarded as the Academy's greatest blunder, although take your pick with films this decade. Ignoring the occasionally good and mostly bad epics that were churned out however there are a number of extremely good domestic films that still seem remarkably fresh. The TV generation of directors like John Frankenheimer, Sydney Lumet, Sam Peckinpah, and Arthur Penn all helped breath some fresh life into a rapidly out of touch film industry. Denis Hopper eventually proved that a personal movie that no Hollywood exec could comprehend might be great business, although the same year Easy Rider broke box office records, Hello Dolly got a best picture nomination so go figure.

Anyways enough foreplay, if you actually read these introductions first then you deserve a cookie (you'll have to bake that cookie yourself), so if you haven't skipped ahead to the list then good and don't worry we're about there. Again, 8 of these films were guaranteed from the start, the 9th made the grade fairly easily, #10 however is still being debated internally as I'm typing this. Part of it is a representation of its director, part of it is a geographical acknowledgment, but I can't help scratch my head because there are at least 50 worthy films to fit into that final slot. I know right off hand that a few of these will again anger the gods, many people who know my taste in cinema won't be surprised with too many of them but I realized a long time ago you can't please everyone and pardon me if you've read this before. I said before that I think this cinema's best decade and 8/10 films would probably be in my top 20 all time. Given another month I could have pulled my hair out more, but I'm fairly confident with these choices and enjoyed revisiting the majority of them, some of which I had sadly neglected for too long. So let's stop beating around the bush and get to it shall we:

10. Andrei Rublev (1966) USSR Andrei Tarovsky

This believe it or not was the toughest choice to make. I wanted something from Eastern Europe so this film could be standing in for Color of Pomegranates, The Red and the White, Diamonds of the Night, or The Cremator. Although only Tarkovsky's second feature length film this shows a maturity beyond words. It's a film that seems incredible it even got made, and quite a shock that it got banned, but then again what film didn't the Soviet Union ban? Who makes a 205 minute film about a 15th century painter who is never seen painting, and is at best a supporting character in his own story? Beginning the film with a still incredible flying dream sequence and ending with a story of a giant bell being made followed by color shots of Rublev's surviving work that we had only heard about throughout the film. It is a cliche to call Tarkovsky a cinematic poet but what better description can you give him. This film evokes the same kind of medieval malaise of Bergman's Seventh Seal without so much a question of faith as a blind acceptance of it. We feel sorry for the nude pagans who are being hunted after a night of love, but we realize that in this world everyone has to suffer, whether artistic or not. This would be Tarkovsky's first true masterpiece but wouldn't be his last that's for sure.

9. The Manchurian Candidate (1962) US John Frankenheimer

Pulled from circulation for 25 years after the death of John F. Kennedy this film seemed like a marvel when eventually rediscovered and re-released. Even in the waning days of the production code its a marvel that this was made. A story about brainwashing with a surreal bravura dream sequence of alternating little old ladies and communists along with political assassination, incest, and a welcome dose of anti-McCarthyism. There is hardly anything subtle about this film, from the monstrous mother, to Frank Sinatra's karate fight, to Senator Iselin's always changing number of known communists in the defense department. In one of the films few jokes he settles on 57 after using the sauce for his steak. Laurence Harvey, considered miscast by some is incredible in the film able to be repulsive and sympathetic in equal parts. I still challenge anyone who doesn't feel something at the end of this film and who can't appreciate the style and technique that Frankenheimer brings to it. Frank Sinatra delivered what is easily his best performance although Angela Lansbury steals the show at nearly every turn earning one of the films two Oscar nominations. She lost out to Patty Duke from The Miracle Worker and good luck finding someone still talking about that film today. However looking at some of the other best picture nominees make you wonder just what the hell was wrong with voters in the 60s. I wonder if you'll ever be the same when someone suggests passing the time with a little solitaire.

8. Psycho (1960) US Alfred Hitchcock

I'm sure someone must have thought that I hated Hitch by now. After all here we are seeing out first appearance by him on one of these lists. Well there's a reason why this is the only film to show up, because it is his best film and well as you can imagine one of the most important, shocking, and influential films ever made. Although it seems wrong to call this a horror film, as if that derogatory term cheapens it somehow its hard to think of a slasher that's come out that doesn't owe some debt to this. That said I wish one of the numerous hacks who thinks of new not-that-clever ways to torture people that passes itself off as a horror film would give this a look. The body count is low (and people thought it was too violent at the time) the motive is disturbing, and well who else but Hitchcock could make showers so damn terrifying? The mother of all surprise endings and a film that broke nearly every rule of filmmaking before it as well as establishing a whole new set of guidelines. Hitchcock's style was never so perfectly attuned. He relied on nearly all his tricks and techniques to serve the purpose of the story, rather than rely on a gimmick (Rope's long takes, Rear Window's one point of view, Lifeboat's one set) he simply did whatever was best for the picture. Whether it was a montage edit in a bathroom, extreme close ups, slow pans, his own "vertigo effect", deep focus/shallow focus, its never been so perfectly situated. Nearly a textbook for how to effectively direct not just a suspense or horror film but any picture. I'll gladly take this over Vertigo any day this is easily Hitchcock's best film. As a side note I should give a little credit to Janet Leigh for appearing in the two best American films of the decade, at least films not co-produced outside of America.

7. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) Italy/Spain Sergio Leone

The idea that Western films died with the change of the decade is a silly one. Perhaps they weren't as simple, common, or as popular as their 50s counterparts the new generation of Westerns made up in quality what they lacked in quantity. With three films in a row Sergio Leone helped to usher in a whole new style and the "Spaghetti Western" was born. Although A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More are excellent in their own right neither can really hold up to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I don't think I'm overstating it by saying this is the greatest Western film ever made, yeah I said it, even after praising The Searchers in my last list. For iconic dialogue, brilliant shootouts, and enough double crosses and plot twists to make your head spin as well as the genre's most iconic music score I can't think of a reason why this wouldn't be the best ever. It made Clint Eastwood a worldwide star, something that we're still thankful for today, gave much needed new life to a dying genre, and proved that perhaps Westerns rather than musicals were the genre deserving of producing epics. I would probably go a step further and say this is the best Civil War film ever made as well. Sure very little of this film has to do with the actual war and is more about three awful people doing awful things to each other, but the time period is there and it has as many battle sequences as Gone With the Wind. Sergio Leone had one hell of a decade and many (not including myself) think his next film Once Upon a Time in the West is even better. When it came to Western's the man could do no wrong in the 60s. Somehow no matter how many movies he makes Clint Eastwood always seems a little out of place without a cowboy hat.

6. La Dolce Vita (1960) Italy/France Federico Fellini

I may have said something about Italian cinema earlier. This was really the one that did it. Fellini set the tone for the decade with this film that firmly destroyed the last remaining threads of neorealism (a crime some never forgave him for). It gave birth to a new and even better movement in Italian cinema where instead of feeling sorry for the poor we could feel a little better about watching rich people wander through a meaningless life. Episodic in nature and with no real plot or conflict Fellini manages to make one of the most compelling films ever made. Its so compulsively watchable by giving us an observer a voyeur if you will in Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) who sees what we see and feels even less. Its a difficult film to describe to someone who hasn't seen it and makes even less sense without some knowledge of what makes Fellini tick as a person and filmmaker. Around the same time as Antonioni, Fellini realized that the rich made much more interesting subjects than the poor but although both showed the emptiness of their hollow lifestyles, Fellini seemed to have a lot more fun doing it. It established its director as the leader of a new movement and for a time the hottest director in international cinema.

5. Weekend (1967) France/Italy Jean-Luc Godard

In some ways Godard's 60s paralleled The Beatles. Sure Godard never came close to experiencing that type of popularity (no one would probably ever), but to think of the amount of growth and progress he made in just 7 years is extraordinary. Its even more shocking when you take into account how brilliant and influential his first film was. Since Breathless however Godard seemed to be experimenting with a style. Whether it was visual, spiritual, political, playing with the narrative, music, title cards it all seemed to be fragmentary. Sometimes it worked wonderfully (Alphaville, Pierrot Le Fou) and other times it remained an interesting would be failure (Band of Outsiders, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her). His films were always worth a look and even at their worst still more exciting than nearly anything else in cinema. It's hard to say that about his films post-Weekend. This film however was the culmination of all that experimentation. The peak of his artistic prowess and the ultimate realization of form and content, a highly potent, political, violent critique of a capitalist nightmare that is as amazing as French cinema gets. This is the type of film that makes comparing Godard to other French filmmakers (or any filmmaker for that matter) just unfair. He was ten steps ahead of everyone and no film better shows his complete mastery than this. Truth be told though its hard for some people to appreciate this film without having knowledge of what Godard did before. It's comical long takes, senseless displays of violence, and absolutely rotten spoiled protagonists still make this a fun trip into hell.

4. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) UK/US David Lean

You may have noticed a pattern of international co-production by this point, but that's beside the point. Lawrence of Arabia was David Lean's ultra-ambitious follow up to the multiple award winning Bridge on the River Kwai a film which for better or worse reinvented David Lean as a master of epics. The former editor used his background to great effect in this film with some of cinema's most famous cuts. Evoking equal parts the beauty and brutality of the desert Lean fashioned something of an intimate epic of a complicated man always out of place until thrown in the middle of nowhere. Peter O'Toole plays Lawrence as a slightly mad megalomaniac who slowly discovers he has a taste for bloodshed. Sure it's easy to question some of the casting (who believes Alec Guinness is an Arab prince?) but its impossible to deny some of the images. It takes its sweet time, but this isn't a quick story, and never in its nearly four hour running time does the film seem like it drags. The picture is also bleak and can serve as something of a warning for our own meddling in Arab countries today. No matter how well meaning our intentions we can't really understand that way of thinking. Lawrence is always "almost an Arab" but is constantly overestimating his own understanding projecting his goals onto the people. It's interesting that as great as the film may be most of the climatic battle sequences occur off screen making the film much more of a character study than action picture. Amazing to think of a time when a four hour historical epic could also be a character study. Hollywood would try in vein too many times to duplicate Lawrence's success but more explosions and blood was not the answer. Lean really made a masterpiece here.

3. Persona (1966) Sweden Ingmar Bergman

In some ways this film is similar to Godard's Weekend. They are both films that seem as the culmination of their director's efforts. Films that although great the first time around only get better the more familiar you get with their work. Bergman had spent most of the decade making these intimate chamber dramas many of which seemed too dark and downtrodden to be considered masterpieces. After a rare comic endeavor and a two year seclusion, Bergman re-emerged a changed man. Persona was the first film made after his hospitalization and in the opening sequence he helps to usher in his own formal reconstruction of film language. A cinematic rebirth and one of the few avant-garde techniques used in his work. Then with essentially two people, one of whom hardly utters a word he makes one of the most compelling relationships in cinema history. Two women who are at one and the same, halves of a whole, or polar opposites? With some of the most indelible images in cinema history this is simply a confident filmmaker returning from exile with a new lease on life and art. Neither Bergman nor any other filmmaker would ever really be able to recapture the type of magic in this film, the simplicity of it, the ambiguity, the beauty its sublimely perfect cinema.

2. 8 1/2 (1963) Italy/France Federico Fellini

Well I might as well say this is the greatest foreign language film ever made. You may have also noticed a new precedent, this is the first time a director has had two films on the same list. Fitting that director is Fellini who had a one-two punch that rivaled none in the history of cinema. If La Dolce Vita ushered in a new movement in Italian cinema, 8 1/2 perfected it. With an improvisatory feel Fellini made the most artistically brilliant film about the art of cinema with a protagonist who is completely unable to emerge from his writer's block. So much of the film wanders between fantasy and reality, flashbacks and dreams without warning that it might take a few viewings to catch what reality we might be watching. There are plenty of questions with answers that aren't terribly important to obtain. At its center is filmmaker Guido (a much better looking stand in alter-ego for Fellini) who constantly is struggling to find meaning in his work and believes that the answer is an elusive woman who he slowly begins to realize can never be the ideal he has in his mind. The film was butchered and massacred at the hands of a severely ill conceived musical with a host of former Oscar winners that seems to piss me off more and more. I could probably watch this film every day of my life and not get sick of it, as well as picking up something new each time. Few films of the decade exemplify the spirit of experimentation and cinematic revolution quite like this. Its funny that the critic tells Guido "Cinema is 50 years behind all the other arts", funny because this was 50 years ahead of the rest of cinema. Often imitated and duplicated (even a few times by Fellini) it would never be equaled.

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) UK/USA Stanley Kubrick

Well I may have said earlier that Kubrick needed no introduction. It makes sense that the best film from the best director in the best decade would all point to 2001. Like Psycho this film transcends it's critically lauded genre, although this film goes much further than Psycho or anything else. A science fiction epic that challenges the very notion of god's creation. Incredibly ambitious, audacious, and ambiguous there really is no other film quite like Kubrick's masterpiece. From a technical standpoint it redefined special effects, inventing its own techniques that are still being used today. As a narrative it is remarkable. For twenty minutes there is no dialogue while we witness the dawn of man. Then we get introduced to some scientists that are never referenced for the final hour plus. When we finally do get a couple of "heroes" they are upstaged by a computer. Kubrick constantly pulls the rug out from us, as a tale of evolution to aliens to technology run amuck to a stargate/black hole sequence that will to quote a phrase "blow your mind". The film changes gears and by the end you might not be sure just what you've seen but you know it was god damn brilliant. The final 30 minutes of the film are arguably the greatest thing in cinema history, for Kubrick this would forever give him complete artistic freedom and cement his status as one of the all time greats, and in my opinion at least the greatest of all time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

To the Multi-Plex . . .

Standing Ovation, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Despicable Me, The Last Airbender, Eclipse, Grown Ups, Knight and Day, The Karate Kid these films all have two things in common. First they are all playing at my local multi-plex, and second I have no interest in seeing any of them. I'm sure Despicable Me is tolerable in its way. The Happening made me finally lose faith in Shyamalan's filmkaing ability. Seeing how the film got almost universally bad reviews only confirmed, I'm going to stay away from his work for awhile. The other films either make me run and scream or just simply do nothing for me. It is summer this is the time of year when franchises pump out more crap, remakes upon remakes are made, and sequels galore. Typically it takes something special to rustle me up out of the comfort of my DVDs to see something new. I should also point out Toy Story 3 is playing which I have not seen but fully intend to, even if I wait until DVD.

There are two other films that I have seen, one last Sunday and the other tonight. Those films would be Predators and Inception. The first a good old fashioned action sci-fi hybrid that helps restore some credibility and excitement to what seemed a dead franchise that should have never become a franchise in the first place. Heed what I say, the original Predator may quite possibly be the greatest action film ever made so don't think for a second that I'm bashing the whole Predator concept. All I'm saying is that up until last Sunday I was viewing that concept as a one trick pony. A great film that spawned a few bastard children like most great popular movies. There are some who believe the second Predator is a great film and was unfairly bashed simply by suffering the major handi-cap of trying to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger with Danny Glover. Admittedly its been a little too long since I've seen it to voice an opinion but I can tell you I wasn't much of a fan when I saw it as a kid. The less said about the Alien vs. Predator films the better.

So that brings us to Hollywood's newfound favorite trend, the gritty reboot. Sometimes its a ploy to remake a once beloved film so that a whole new generation can waste their time and money and decide it sucks (I'm so looking forward to Tron failing miserably), the other times its a creative "re-launching" which should read as a way not to offend fans of the original. Christopher Nolan (who we'll get to soon) made the prototypical gritty reboot with Batman Begins, which made no effort to remake Tim Burton's 1989 film, simply charted out a new course and helped revive a franchise that was severely damaged by Joel Schumacher run amuck. For the record I think Batman and Robin is one of the greatest camp films ever made, but certainly the worst Batman movie. Turn it into a drinking game and its golden, but I'm starting to get distracted.

Predators is something different. It makes no reference whatsoever to the AVP films thankfully but it does reference the original Arnold classic. In this way maybe it could be called "Predator 3" but Predators has a much better ring to it. This is neither a re-launching or a sequel, just an offshoot of the franchise taken to a new place but with a firm grounding in the things that made that 1987 film so beloved. At times Predators caters to fans of the original too much, I expected Adrian Brody to say "You're one ugly motherfucker" at one point, but that shows just how many references were made. The film is successful in having some good action, a worthwhile plot structure, and a near note for note score but fails in one noticeable area. Either the characters are uninteresting or the people playing them aren't. The original Predator gave distinct personalities to everyone involved, whether that was giant pussy jokes, shaving sweat, chewing tobacco, or cinema's greatest hand shake there was a whole heck of a lot to like about the first one. Not just that but the larger than life actors who inhabited the roles made you care when one of them was shot down. Here the "we are the world" cast that drops from the sky literally seems to be dropped upon us the viewer. There is no long standing camaraderie and no one has a personality except as being a supposed bad ass in their respective country, and how they can all speak English is never really explained. Aside from Brody, Danny Trejo, and Topher Grace the cast is largely unknown. Sure there's a random appearance by Laurence Fishburne who seems slightly wasted here and is more of a plot device than a character and doesn't seem terribly convincing as a man who could survive on that planet for so long, but that's another story.

Now Trejo is a bad ass of repute in modern action films and most of my friends are eagerly awaiting him to be in Machete, but he seems wasted here. Topher Grace has been many things, bad ass isn't one of them. Even though Adrien Brody packed on 25 pounds of muscle for the role and already has an Oscar to his name, he is no Arnold, but then again no one is Arnold, not even Arnold anymore. He was a once in a lifetime action star that will probably never be replaced, just as no martial arts star will ever be Bruce Lee. We can speculate on some dream casting for this, but I guess most of those guys are appearing in Stallone's The Expendables which is coming out in about 4 weeks. Alice Braga is the voice of reason and helps dilute ever so slightly the testosterone, but truth be told this film isn't exactly boiling over with testosterone. These guys aren't the roided out super heroes we believed were the "best of the best" in 1987, they're just a string of random people designed to be too generic and universal to be real.

The Predators themselves get some screen time and we get to see more into their own social structure and character traits. They live to hunt this we know, but their rules and code of conduct get much more screen time here. In one of the movies best moments we actually get a sword fight with our Yakuza and a Predator in a grassy field that I'm sure is a direct reference to a memorable battle in Seven Samurai. There is even a bigger, stronger Predator that seems to dominate the normal ugly predators that we're familiar with. I'm not one to over analyze these types of movies and suggest some sort of universal allegory about the nature of war so lets just accept it as what it is, an action film and a better than average one at that.


I've been excited to see this film for awhile now. I saw a brief teaser trailer for it awhile ago back when it was just "Summer 2010". I had no idea what the hell it was about, and even with a host of trailers and commercials I didn't know much more. The less I know about a movie before going into it the better I feel, all too often everything is given away in a trailer. Since this was from Christopher Nolan who was following the best film of 2008 with this, I had faith. Although not all of his films are "masterpieces" his track record is good enough that I can at least expect something interesting from him. From the few unexplainable images I had seen I knew this wasn't going to be entirely ordinary.

Inception fits the bill of what can be called a "mind bender". Perhaps Lonardo DiCaprio is drawn to these considering Shutter Island could also be considered something of a mind bender. That said it's been decades since simply blowing people's minds equaled box office success. Still amazing to think that 2001 could have been a hit, even if it is one of the greatest films of all time. Drawing comparisons to all time masterpieces is always troublesome water, especially on opening day so I won't necessarily draw it into such prestigious company. This film isn't nearly as complex as 2001 was and honestly its rather easy to follow. I'm not saying that in a "I'm smarter than everyone" sort of way but the dream within a dream within a dream, etc concept isn't too hard to grasp. It appears as though Nolan got the disjointed narratives out of his system after his first couple of films, which would have made this movie a ridiculous labyrinth so thanks for keeping it chronological aside from the opening, but it all makes sense.

Perhaps there are some clues to be uncovered, some glitches we wouldn't notice unless we were looking for them, and if all goes well I'll take another look at the film and see just what I may have missed/taken for granted. Nolan avoids having a "twist" so there isn't a moment where the rug is pulled out from under you so to speak which is good because that typically makes films of that nature fade fast once the cat is let out of the bag. Although I have read that the film follows something of a heist structure. That may be over simplifying it considering that this team is attempting to plant an idea in someone's subconscious, it does involve some safe cracking however. To me calling it a heist film seems almost to insult it. Christopher Nolan is not trying to be James Cameron and make a really simple film blown out of proportion. Instead its something of a daring original idea that most likely was only made because The Dark Knight made a billion dollars.

It's easy to tell that a good majority of the effects in the film weren't the result of never ending CGI. Nowadays computer animation will even give you moonlight (Wolf Man anyone?), this film resorted to a lot of the more tried and true old school methods of roto-scoping, wire work and a revolving room that Fred Astaire used to dance on the ceiling back in the 50s. I'm sure there's plenty of computer animation to go around so don't think the film was all stop motion animation and model sets. However the film looks so much better than most films that go the 100% digital route which is funny because most of the film takes place within a dream of some kind which could give you license to get as silly as you want with CGI. Perhaps Nolan recognizes its a means to an end and not some self indulgent toy that must be used to bludgeon poor unsuspecting viewers at all times.

The film will get you thinking for sure. Maybe for a few minutes afterwards you could even question your own reality. Like the best films though it did leave an impression with me. I didn't walk out of the theater wondering what I was going to eat or where I was going to go. I left thinking about the film and all its wonderful layers. Long as it is we don't get a great deal of reason to really jump into the mission at hand. At times it seems like it might just be an excuse to get things rolling. Nolan instead chooses to let us get a little deeper into the motivation behind everyone's actions as the film progresses rather than just bore us to tears with too much exposition. Of course the idea of constructing dreams and designing them has to be explained to some point because there's a lot that can't be so easily described.

The Dark Knight was easily my favorite film of 2008, and I must say half way into the year, Inception is by far the best film I've seen this year. Granted I haven't seen a lot, but this is now the measuring point that all films will have to go up against for the rest of the year. I know surrealism might seem almost commonplace today but it felt so good to hand over that outrageous sum for my ticket to see something that looked and felt original without being based on some film or show from the 80s, or some crappy book about sparkling vampires, or with the words "Walt Disney Presents" attached to it. I hope its successful and maybe just maybe there could be a future for original ideas once again, but we'll see.