Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Double Feature Review: Boondock Saints II and Inception

Here begins yet another recurring segment, which should remain feasible as long as my "to see" list of movies includes dozens of titles, Netflix keeps getting my money, and rural Maine continues to be boring. I tend to chat with a college friend while watching movies online, and quite a few Friday nights have been spent that way. I guess I could go out and hit the scene, but you know...rural Maine. This segment is quite simple: a two for the price of one movie review where I'll give a quick reaction to some movies I've seen in quick succession, either back to back or within the span of a few days.

The inaugural duo: The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, 2009 sequel to cult hit The Boondock Saints, and Inception, the current mind-bending adventure from Christopher Nolan. We'll start with Saturday's entertainment.

The Boondock Saints II

Teaser: The movie came out a decade after the first Boondock Saints, but only eight years have passed when the story begins. The Saints and their father have moved to Ireland to pursue a quiet farming life, but return to Boston when they are framed for the murder of a priest. They pick up a Mexican fighter along the way, as some of our favorite finest from the Boston Police team up with an FBI agent to figure out how to respond to their return.

The bad news first: It takes a solid half-hour for the story to really start. The Boondock Saints ended with the brothers and their father vowing to exterminate crime syndicates in the city and the BPD giving them a little bit of help in their mission. It turns out they can't keep a promise. The final scene marked their final murder, at least until the action starts to pick up. So rather than keeping the Saints in Boston, where a frame-up may well have had more serious consequences, it has to grind its way along with everyone fretting about what will happen when they get to Boston. By comparison, at the half-hour mark of The Boondock Saints we've already gotten quite a bit of character development, a couple of dead Russian mobsters, and the Saints' realization of their cause.

Most of the surviving characters return, but the absence of Willem Dafoe's Paul Smecker is obviously the most noticeable one. Julie Benz plays a protege of his, ie the same character but better-looking in a dress. For some reason, Benz also puts on a Southern accent for the role. I'm sure there are men out there who immediately consider a Southern accent to immediately amplify a woman's sexiness, but it just doesn't seem to fit. Clifton Collins Jr. does a reasonable job with Conner, who the Saints take on as a third member, but the character doesn't seem all that necessary. The first movie made it kind of clear that Daddy Saint was taking the place of the slain Rocco, but due to the stuttering transit issues in the first quarter of the movie the Saints are left with a not-really-necessary vacancy to fill.

Troy Duffy, writer and director of the original movie, returns for the sequel. Unfortunately, he tries to transfer quite a few of the favorite elements from the first film. References to past parts of a series are perfectly OK when done in moderation, but the best sequels take the characters and give them a new situation, resulting in an entirely new story for the audience to love. Boondock Saints II ends up transferring way too many things over, to the point where characters are dredged up from the dead.

The good stuff: After that half-hour plod to get the Saints to Boston and they finally do what they do best, the movie suddenly feels a lot more like the original. A clumsy assassination attempt involving a forklift and a piddling little gun is immediately followed by a hilarious attempt by Detective Greenly (Bob Marley) to do a Smecker-esque forensic investigation with some wholly inadequate music on his iPod. I know I complained about the transfer of too many elements, but the return of the rope in one scene results in a scene which nicely shows the progress the boys are making in vigilantism since their lucky break in a luxurious hotel room.

It's nice to see the relationship between the authorities and the Saints explored a little more. The backstory of the Saints' father is done very well. And I rather enjoyed the ending, and not in a "thank God it's over" kind of way. It pretty much requires a third movie in the series, though. That could easily be a good thing, but it could turn out to be pretty awful as well.

Verdict: It was really flawed, but you can still enjoy it.

And on to Sunday.


Synopsis: A new technology allows a group of thieves to sneak into the subconscious of people who have been knocked out by roofies or other means in order to steal their ideas. When a client wants to use the technology for "inception" (the planting of an idea) to break up a rival empire, one thief is willing to do it in order to win a return to the United States to see his children. But the memories of his wife and other obstacles threaten not only this goal, but the safety of his fellow mind hackers.

The bad news first: The soundtrack at times competes with the dialogue. Much of the first half of the movie is discussion, and the score seems to be constant even in scenes where it would have been much better for it to quiet down and let the characters talk.

One dream seems just a tad cliche. No, the dreamer doesn't wake up in a high school hallway in his underwear, but the environment is just a little unoriginal. When I saw the trailers for this movie, I thought it gave an excellent sense of anything being possible in a dream through unconventional images like the train barreling down the city street and zero-gravity fights in a hotel hallway. When one trailer informed us that there would be scenes of battles at a remote fortress in the snow, it made me wonder if the dreamer had recently seen The World Is Not Enough or something.

The good: So very much. There's a reason this movie has earned a 9.2 out of 10 average vote out of some 84,000 votes on the Internet Movie Database, ranking it as number three on their list of the top 250 user-rated films.

The trailers have already revealed virtually every action scene in Inception, but they also promised that it would deliver a story with the visuals only serving to complement it. And it does. Christopher Nolan, fresh off the success of The Dark Knight, has written an excellent screenplay with a very original premise. The story is highly complex; the opening scenes immediately start whipping the audience around, revealing a few flashbacks and multi-layered dreams within the opening scene alone, and this structure continues until the end. Yet even when you're in the midst of a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream, you can still trace your way back to reality and know the motivations and reasons for what's going on.

I've seen some mixed reviews about Leonardo DiCaprio's performance, which I'm hoping isn't just continued residual resentment over the Titanic hype 12 years ago. DiCaprio's performance probably won't net him an Oscar nomination, but it kept you caring for the character and his overall situation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page did quite well in their roles of trying to keep things tethered in some degree of sanity. Michael Caine seems to be quite a big name for a role which comprises some 20 minutes at best, but perhaps that just goes to show that they weren't going to water anything down when it came to the actors.

The visuals are very striking on the big screen and, as I've mentioned, they don't overwhelm you. In fact, I was focused so much on the story that when the train finally did come blasting down the street, it caught me completely by surprise. Even though it was one of the more iconic images in the trailer, I hadn't been waiting impatiently for it to show up.

And finally, there's the last scene. Not to give anything away, but it couldn't have been better.

Verdict: Go see it.

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