Blockbuster Log: Harry Potter (1st Movie)

Harry Potter #1 - poster

I believe a movie should be judged by what it is, not by what it is not.  And Harry Potter is a kids’ film.  As such, it succeeds nicely by splashing lots of fresh paint on the genre.  7/10

Into the Wild for 127 Hours

I think of 127 Hours (2010) as a sort of sequel to Into the Wild (2007), on which I posted in May.  They’re both free-spirited true stories of adventure by a single young man alone in the wilderness, and tap into that full potential of meeting nature face to face.  127 Hours did not have as deep a storyline or emotional complexity as Into the Wild and is a much shorter movie — by nearly an hour.  But there’s nothing wrong with brevity — 127 Hours packs a punch.  It’s great and very entertaining.

Ebert liked this movie even more than I did, giving it his highest rating (SPOILER ALERT — his review gives away too much, I think with the assumption that most people already know what ends up happening):

Is the film watchable?  Yes, compulsively.  Films like this don’t move quickly or slowly, they seem to take place all in the same moment.

Ebert ends his review with:

He did what he had to do, which doesn’t make him a hero.  We could do it, too.  Oh, yes, we could.

This makes me reflect on the movie, and really what a great movie about life it is.  The difficulties Roger Ebert went through late in life gave him the legitimacy, the right to make the above statement without it ringing hollow — a right that most other critics and Ebert himself at a younger age do not have.  What a loss it is to have Ebert gone.

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A note on the director Danny Boyle.  The marketing on this movie touts him as the director of Slumdog Millionaire.  If you’re one of the people (like me) that thinks Millionaire was highly overrated and just not very good, and if you also thought that his Olympics Opening Ceremony was a big let-down, don’t be discouraged against 127 Hours.  First of all, Millionaire and 127 Hours are ‘chasms’ apart (I couldn’t resist).  And bear in mind that Boyle put his name on the map with the groundbreaking indie triumph Trainspotting.  Point being, he’s a mixed bag, and this movie’s one of his gems.

Is Elysium a Summer Oasis?

Elysium PosterElysium had the opportunity to be a truly great film, extending the sci-fi lineage built by Metropolis, Silent Running, Logan’s RunThe Terminator, The Matrix, and Gattaca.  The director Neill Blomkamp has produced what may be thought of as a natural and very good follow-up to his previous effort District 9.  In Elysium, Blomkamp offers a pure science fiction story in the spirit of Heinlein or Bradbury, and supports it with grand visuals and imaginative, thoughtful concepts of future technology and societal paradigms.  At its best, Elysium is stunning and breathtaking.

The premise that the entire earth has become a giant wasteland without any connection to the inhabitants in orbit above I did not 100% buy, but this movie was good enough to let those doubts fall by the wayside.  For about the first two-thirds of the film, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story and experienced something great beyond expectations.

The final act unfortunately devolves into standard Hollywood fight and action scenes, as the Times’ Manohla Dargis summarizes:

Like many others working the industrial genre beat, Mr. Blomkamp turns out to be much better at blowing things up than putting the shattered pieces together, though this may also be a matter of box-office calculation.  The beginning of “Elysium” comes on like gangbusters, and at first it’s fun to be swept up in a movie like this, riding shotgun with the swooping camera moves and feeling the dread creep in with each of the score’s brassy blares (harbingers of doom like those in “Inception”).  As the weapons start firing and the blood begins running, it’s hard not to wonder, though, if it’s Mr. Blomkamp who couldn’t find a genuinely fresh exit strategy or whether, as this summer’s screen conflagrations suggest, it’s the big studios that have given up on Utopia.

That about says it.  There was a critical juncture in the latter half of the film where it could have gone down a path of true cinematic enlightenment.  Blomkamp might have chosen to take us not only to Elysium, but to Nirvanna.  At that fork in the road, he instead chose to drive down the same worn-out track that all the other big-budget summertime flicks have trod.

Another thing I didn’t like was the whole ‘Iron Man-lite’ suit that Matt Damon’s character was bolted into — I think that part of the movie was mishandled.  Still, on balance, this is one of the best movies of the year so far and worth checking out on the big screen.  8/10

Indie Adventure: Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed - poster

One of the pleasant surprises of last year was a little indie called Safety Not Guaranteed. It has a plot that runs somewhat along the lines of Sound of My Voice: A group of young journalists find a provocative classified ad in the local paper which reads:

*WANTED* Somebody to go back in time with me.  This is not a joke.  You’ll get paid after we get back.  Must bring your own weapons.  Safety not guaranteed.  I have only done this once before.

And so they investigate.  What follows is fascinating and wonderful.  Roger Ebert liked the movie as much as I did:

Few descriptions of “Safety Not Guaranteed” will do it justice. It’s a more ambitious and touching movie than seems possible, given its starting point, which is this classified ad in an alternative newspaper…

It is a comedy in many ways, but there’s a serious undertow, kindhearted attention to the characters, and a treatment of time travel that (a) takes it seriously, and (b) sidesteps all of the well-known paradoxes by which time travel is impossible. That’s not to say time travel takes place in “Safety Not Guaranteed.” Or that it doesn’t. A rather brilliant ending is completely satisfying while proving nothing. What it means is that the story takes place entirely at this time, and time travel provides the subject and not the gimmick…

“Safety Not Guaranteed” not only has dialogue that’s about something, but characters who have some depth and dimension.

I like lots of different types of movies, but this type is one of my favorites — full of charm, but also with a good story.  I had previously given it an 8 rating, but every time I think of it I am filled with warm fuzzies, so I’m upping it to a 9/10.  This is why I like indies so much.

Film Brief: World War Z

ANOTHER ZOMBIE MOVIE?  After watching Zombieland (2009) I said, “That’s it.  That’s the final word in zombie movies.  We don’t need any more.”  Since then, we’ve had about six dozen.

But despite the tired zombie theme, this is a good movie.  In the beginning, comparisons to Outbreak, I Am Legend, and various Invasions of Body Snatchers were dashing through my head, but — as testament to this movie’s quality — those comparisons gave way as I became involved in the movie.  And that’s surprising — a Hollywood summer blockbuster that’s actually good, and entertaining the way it should be — grandly cinematic.  There’s a considerable amount of things plot-wise that are hardly optimal, but there are also moments of nuance and intelligence that balance World War Z to a 7/10.  If you like zombie movies, you should dig this one.

World War Z - IMDb still