These may be the only 2010 movies I have seen this year.  Even if that is not true they are easily the best of the year so far.  I am not too sure what else I have to say about Edge of Darkness beyond what I had said in the previous Cagematch. This is an easy fight to adjudicate: Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese: Goodfellas) wins.  Easily.

Based upon the trailers and how it was pushed I was expecting Shutter Island to be a horror film.However, being a Scorsese film made me doubt this was correct.  And sure enough, it is not a horror film.  The moment of the trailer that seemed terror-izing was not in the actual film.  I always have high expectations for a Scorsese film and my expectations would have been higher had I known this was not a horror film.  This movie, however, does not live up to my expectations.  It was gorgeous to watch and the story was engaging.  However, it was not as smart as I thought it would be.

Quai-spoilers below.  I will give away enough that it can change a first viewing of the movie but I will not disclose enough that it ruins it.  I hope.

The first problem I had with Shutter Island was its simplicity.  I knew during the opening scene what the story was, the rest of the film was merely filling in the arc with details.  I may have been alone though, as I heard the audience gasp when the reveal happened.  For anyone that has followed Hitchcock and De Palma this movie was too easy to decode.  This is not a fatal problem, as I doubt a non-cinaphile will decode it as quickly as I did.

The second problem, and a fairly catastrophic error, is that the fantasy of the movie is too close to the reality of the movie.  These fantasies are constructed to keep the subject safe from the reality, so it makes no sense that the fantasy would be close enough to reality that it can unravel.  This distinction is the brilliance that Lynch brings to filmmaking.  It is this distinction that also makes Lynch so difficult to watch as the movies are almost too disjointed to cohere.  This error of Scorsese’s is almost forgivable, except that he acknowledges this error in the movie. There is a second fantasy at work and it never comes close enough to the reality to unravel.  Why aren’t the characters in the movie smart enough to recognize this difference between these fantasies?

There is a sweet twist at the very end of Shutter Island, however.  My favorite character in The Matrix is Tank because of the honest and difficult decision he makes about his subjectivity.  This final wrinkle in Shutter Island was well done, even if it was done with a wink.

Not too sure what I was thinking by making this the resumption of the Cagematch series.  I did not care for either movie.  Can I award a double loss?  Of course I can.  I will use another movie as a reference.  In Step Brothers (2008, Adam McKay: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) there is terrific fight scene between the brothers that is finally resolved when they strike each other simultaneously in the head with a baseball bat and a golf club.  That’s what this cagematch is.  Wham-Thump.  And they both go down!

If I had to choose one it would be Lost Highway (1997, David Lynch: Twin Peaks) for two reasons.  First, this movie carries some pretention value.  I could drop it at a cocktail party and people might find me all neat-o mosquito because I can watch and digest Lynch films.  Second, reviewing the film may expose something.

Book of Eli (2010, Hughes Brothers: Menace II Society) offers none of that.  I do not believe this movie is even made green-lighted by a studio if it was not now.  ‘Now’ meaning in the wake of The Road (post-apocalyptic) and Avatar (pantheistic embracing).  I am so sad about it too, because while I appreciate Denzel Washington (American Gangster) I am a huge Gary Oldman (Immortal Beloved) fan.  This is the only 2010 release I have seen (still catching up on 2009 releases) this year and I refuse to place it on my working list of Best of 2010.

This was a painful bout to watch.  From the opening bell it was obvious Bolt would win, if for no other reason than because TDESS’ technique was old and predictable, like a 50 year old Mike Tyson it was once solid in technique but the competition has grown wise.  TDESS is a story of Humanity’s judgment.  Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) is sent to Earth to make the final assessment about whether or not humans can be trusted with one of the few livable planets in the cosmos.  I first encountered this story in the pilot of Star Trek: Next generation.  Q remained unpersuaded so Picard introduced Q to beautiful artifacts.  John Cleese has a brief role in TDESS and goes through the same motions, finally deciding that only Dr. Benson (Jennifer Connelly), a hottie astrobiologist (say what?), can affect Klaatu enough to not exterminate the specie.  Yawn.

Bolt’s story is so much more compelling and was able to quickly subdue the left jab from TDESS turning it into a hip flip.  Bolt’s unique storyline as well as the empathy felt for the main character allowed the ground game to completely work through TDESS’ defenses.  Somehow TDESS managed to hang on until the end of the round, but it emerged clearly bloodied and shaken.

Cleese also made a non-singing guest appearanc...
Image via Wikipedia

The second round saw almost a repeat of the first round.  TDESS approached quickly and immediately went for what the coaches though was its best move: a take down at the knees with special effects.  Unfortunately for the TDESS team, they received a bad draw.  Reviewing the tape of Bolt’s last fight would have showed them that the special effects ground game is Bolt’s strength and TDESS would be unable to compete.  As TDESS’ nose was receiving elbow after elbow from Bolt you could hear taunts from the audience, “Dumbasses, it’s an animated flick!”

TDESS did manage one nice move that caught Bolt off guard.  TDESS deployed a lemma as its force to destroy the humans.  This is a sophisticated move as even Lacan has devoted space to the lemma.  Think Crichton’s Prey, or a tornado or a Biblical locust swarm.  The lemma is not only destructive but also scary because it is depth-less, lacking discernable individual elements.  The lemma echoes back to us our very worst fears about ourselves.  However, Bolt was able to quickly recover.  It is too skilled an opponent to lose to a single innovative move.

The match ended quickly leaving Bolt an undefeated champion.  TDESS might have had better luck in other weeks, but an unfortunate draw is, after all, part of the game.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Four Christmases

Image via Wikipedia

Bolt is the easy winner here.  This cagematch is a bit more difficult since I never performed the play by play in Four Christmases’ previous match.  It is nice to see Vince Vaughn where he is best – in a heavy dialogued comedy.  While everyone now casts him correctly, I must caution that there was a time post-Swingers where he was lost (Psycho anyone?).  Although, I do prefer Vaughn in a role that allows him to be naughtier, where his character is single (Wedding Crashers) or at least in a knowingly-strained relationship (Old School).  The funniest part of this movie is in the beginning when he and Reese Witherspoon are acting as though they are single.

This movie is too contrived.  Weather causes a flight issue, a reporter just happens to interview them and their families just happen to be watching at that moment.  And!  All four divorced parents still live in the San Francisco area.  My parents divorced when we lived in San Francisco and now none of the three of us live there, but somehow all of these families all remained within driving distance of each other.

411Mania sums up the basic problem of the movie best: “More than anything, the biggest problem with Four Christmases is that it feels like a basic sitcom plot with a tremendous amount of filler to fill a barely feature length runtime.”

Bolt, however, does not feel contrived even though it is the epitome of contrived: animated, speaking dog, evil cats (maybe that is not so contrived) and a hamster in a ball.  I thoroughly enjoyed this movie.  I did see it in 3D and if I had the chance to redo that decision I would.  The glasses are uncomfortable and the 3D features are few and far between.  I definitely would not pay extra money to see it in 3D, but it is nice the option is there.

When I first saw the trailer I remember thinking what a brilliant story idea it is: a dog is on a show where he has special powers, but when the actress goes on vacation he sets off after her not knowing that it was a TV show.  There is a wrinkle to that brief synopsis which I had not thought of and which is…brilliant.  Brilliant enough that I hope to tease you into seeing the movie.  I do think this movie will lose some in the translation onto DVD.

The characters are well done, particularly the surprisingly awesome hamster, Rhino.  The trailer let me in on the humor of this character but there are much funnier and little bits throughout the movie that make it superbly well done.

Even though the lesson of the movie is about humility and mediocrity it does not seem to be a lecture (Amadeus) and the movie leaves you with a sense of ease.  I am recommending this movie to everyone and I am also asking everyone how this movie can possibly be beat by a pack of teenage angsty vampires?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Same story as above, or I guess since it is a blog: below.

Maps & Legends by Michael Chabon vs. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – winner: Maps & Legends.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao vs. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – winner: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I am way behind on my writing, maybe because I have been reading too much fiction and watching too many movies.  In any case I hope to turn to these cagematches and provide reasons, but for now here are my verdicts.

Trail of the Pink Panther vs. Lars and the Real Girl – winner: Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl vs. American Gangster – winner: American Gangster.  I know! A non-sci fi Ridley Scott film that I liked.  Even more amazing though, is a Russel Crow film since he has become famous that I enjoyed.  Am I becoming a softie?

Two lines from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian stand out. The first is uttered by Trumpkin, a friendly dwarf, “You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember,” and a line uttered by Aslan several times, “Things never happen the same way twice.” No doubt this movie is proof. This movie stunk whereas the first installment was thoroughly enjoyable.

A movie populated with children and computer animation is not going to win any acting Oscars. It will not even be considered. The acting reminded me of my summer classes I took when I was in middle school. Those sessions were so bad, including the final production, that I realized (a 12 year old starring in the production realized) acting was not my forte nor could it be. The Narnia players were that unbelievable. I will admit, however, that Iron Man was actually surprising. Who’d have thunk it, that a superhero movie would be marked with good acting. I have always been a Robert Downey, Jr. fan and Iron Man helped solidify his standing. Terrence Howard was even his usual self. And Gwyneth Paltrow actually improved her rankings in my catalogues. And Favreau did a good job with the humor and action in Iron Man.

The Iron Man story was also better. Narnia is clearly informed by a well known Christian writing about Christianity. Even though the movie may try to secularize it (at least somewhat) there is no way to do so. Aslan appears when faith is validated. Aslan has the ability to do anything – the funniest part of the movie was the exchange between Aslan and the mouse voiced by Eddie Izard at the end – such as appear suddenly after a thousand year hiatus, summon the river elemental (?) and regenerate body parts. But the movie in its attempt to distance from the Christian theory actually only epitomizes the most problematic parts of the dogma (if Aslan could have stopped all the bad stuff all along, then why didn’t he?)

Iron Man is almost as problematic. It begins as a polemic about capitalism and its relationship to war and the War on Terrorism. Tony Stark creates an ultimate weapon that can make the war more humane and finished, but it is then co-opted by the terrorists and the capitalists. In the end, the movie makes not an argument against unfettered capitalism but rather makes an argument for war and cleaning up the business of war. But the business of war’s supposed intrinsic goodness remains unquestioned.

There is one thing that needs to be disclosed before I end this post, however. There was a tear-up moment in Narnia and not in Iron Man. At the end when the kids are re-introduced to Aslan there are looks of guilt, as though their wavering faith has hurt Aslan’s feelings and consequently they feel badly for that. Seriously? Aslan was always around, just as God is supposedly always around and yet here we are feeling guilt for not having unwavering belief. Are we truly arrogant enough to think the omnipotent being cares about our faith? The look upon the awakened face would not be one of guilt but rather one of awe. If I were to come face to face with the creator, after so many years of not believing, I would be happy to be home and also terrified for my soul. Guilt for her hurt feelings would not be concern.

Winner: Iron Man.