Artificial Continuum

Friday, December 31, 2010
2010 was a strange year for film. While we did have a few standout productions in multiple genres, this year was perhaps remarkable in the fact that many films failed to live up to expectations. Yes, there were some really terrible movies released this year, Skyline, Clash of the Titans, and Robin Hood are just a few.

Essentially, the only way this effects my Top Ten list is that there will be several films whose placement on this list will be hotly debated. While this is due to the relatively poor quality of this year in cinema, I also have to say that I have not yet seen many critically praised movies such as Black Swan and The Town. There is a high chance that this list will change come Oscar season.

10. The A-Team

Probably the strangest choice on this list, The A-Team was a film that received mixed reviews and quiet a few people despised. However, much can be said about an action film that never takes itself seriously and has alot to offer in terms of creative set pieces. Whether it be a cleverly placed 3D movie gag or a midair battle involving a tank and a parachute, The A-Team is nonstop adrenaline filled entertainment. Throw in a great cast including Liam Neeson and Sharlto Copley and you have one of the most fun films of the year.

9. The Karate Kid

Although a very different film from the original 80's family classic starring Ralph Macchio, The Karate Kid stays faithful in its delivery of quality family entertainment. Taking place in China instead of the beaches of California, the film becomes as much one about culture shock as training and personal triumph. While there is some impressive cinematography and choreography throughout the course of the film, the real star of the Karate Kid is the amazing dynamic between its two leads Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan.

8. Kick Ass

The superhero genre has quickly become one of the most defining movements in film for the 21st century. While there have been many caped crusaders to grace the screen in recent years, it is rare that a comic book film is released that feels truly new and unique, Kick Ass is that film. Made as part satire of superhero films and part action comedy, Kick Ass succeeds off its stellar cast and inventive action sequences. Perhaps most captivating and controversial is eleven year old Chloe Moretz as the violent vigilante Hit Girl.

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

While its script may be flawed, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World's succeeds in being endlessly inventive and visually stunning. Although much of its clever sense of humor and manic vision comes from its source material, it is hard to deny that Pilgrim is funny. What truly makes the film work though is Edgar Wright's unique visual style. Taking influence from both comic books and classic video games, the colorful world design is more inventive then almost any other film this year.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

When it was first announced that the final film in the Harry Potter series would be split into two parts, there was much debate amongst the film and fan community. Was the decision truly based on maximising the quality of the final adaptation? Or was it made simply to maximise profit? Luckily for both fans and film goers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 is a great film as well as faithful adaptation. While there are moments that do not ring as emotional as they should, this is mostly the fault of the film's predecessors. However, with a great cast, amazing cinematography, and some moments of stellar art design Deathly Hallows Part 1 stands as the second best film in the series.

5. How To Train Your Dragon

Dreamworks has for years been one upped by its competitor Pixar. While both studios frequently create great animated films, it is often Pixar that receives higher critical and financial success. While Dreamworks once again experienced this in 2010, the studio released one of its most successful and beloved films in years. How To Train Your Dragon is a heartwarming and empowering, if a bit familiar, tale. While its script may not be best to grace the screen this year, How To Train Your Dragon thrives off its amazing voice cast, great animation, and perhaps one of the best scores of the year. Also worthy of note is the stellar use of 3D effects, which create one of the most memorable flight sequences in modern film.

4. True Grit

It's hard to fault the Coen Brothers. The critically adored duo churn out stellar films from year to year and 2010's remake of the 1960's western classic True Grit is no exception. Sporting a familiar but expertly executed revenge plot, True Grit is captivating throughout its two hour run. The script feels genuine and sports a few moments of witty humor. However, what truly makes the film are the stellar performances by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.

3. Inception

Although not the mind bending film much of the general public claims it to be, Inception still stands as one of the best films of the year. Although filled with strong performances by numerous all star actors, Christopher Nolan is the true star of this film. Delivering both an intelligent and intricate script, as well as moments of fantastic visual design and action Nolan elevates Inception into one of the best sci-fi action films of the last decade.

2. Toy Story 3

It is hard to find a perfect trilogy. While Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings franchise may be one of the few film series to every truly achieve this goal, Toy Story has come very close to joining its ranks. Toy Story 3 is that rare third installment that not only lives up to but exceeds expectations. Building off close to fifteen years of existence, Pixar delivers a respectful, fun, and emotionally powerful conclusion to possibly the best animated franchise of all time. Not only functioning as a stellar family film, Toy Story 3 offers a poignant and stirring study of mortality and loyalty. Toy Story 3 may very well be the most emotional film of the year, and coming from Pixar that is no surprise.

1. The Social Network

Facebook, the movie. The idea seemed ridiculous. It had to be a corporate money grab, something along Ridley Scott's reported Monopoly adaptation. The end result was a film that took America's critic associations by storm. David Fincher's The Social Network is not only a clever and stirring look at the rise of a corporate empire, but a captivating legal thriller and character drama. Driven by Aaron Sorkin's brilliant script filled with snappy and intelligent dialogue, The Social Network pulls the viewer and refuses to let go. Creating a thrilling atmosphere without a single gun shot or death is a feat in and of its own. Even with incredible direction and a fantastic screenplay, The Social Network continues to succeed in its impeccable cast. Jesse Eisenberg plays the brilliant and possibly socially impaired Mark Zuckerberg with a deadpan sense of ego and humor. Eisenberg is contrasted by Andrew Garfield's Eduardo Saverin, the sympathetic and human counterpart to Zuckerberg's digital machine. Even Justin Timberlake delivers portraying the reckless, but enthralling inventor of Napster Sean Parker. The Social Network excels on all fronts delivering not only the best film of the year but a clever commentary on the digital age that is certain to last for years.
Sunday, December 19, 2010

Portraying an all too familiar pattern, this episode of the Clone Wars once again represents a dip in quality. Despite following a stellar episode, Pursuit of Peace fails to achieve the political and emotional heights that it aims for.

After the terrorist attack on Coruscant, the Senate once again finds itself in a deadlock. The bill surrounding the expansion of the clone army still stands as an issue of hot debate, with Padme and her small band of political allies taking center stage. As she struggles to find support from the senate, Padme becomes the target of some rather unsavory individuals and comes face to face with just how dangerous politics can be.

Although the premise for Pursuit of Peace sounds promising, it fails to fully reach its potential. While the political issues surrounding the nature of the conflict are interesting and realistic, many of the other elements in this episode feel bizarrely off kilter. Padme is as frustrating as ever, her unshakeable idealism and peace loving ways become annoyingly unhuman and even irritating to watch. However, her interactions with the other senators are well handled and do offer some memorable moments.

Plot wise the oddest decision is the inclusion of the two mercenaries that target Padme and her supporters. While the episode would be devoid of any action if the two had not appeared, this may have actually been preferrable to the sloppy and poorly animated sequences we were given. Both villains are uncompelling, incompetent, and feel out of place. Perhaps most frustrating of all is an incredibly slow paced and unnecessary chase sequence that dominates the second act. Devoid of tension or good set peices, the chase drags even more then the politically charged scenes.

The dialogue in Pursuit of Peace also experiences a dip in quality. Bail Organa still stands as one of the more awkwardly handled characters in this series, and Padme's speech at the end feels too cliched to be effective.

Despite this, there is one very effective scene at the episodes end surrounding Palpatine. Its the best we've seen of this character during the course of the series, and the consistently stellar animation does much to heigthen the mood of this disturbing closer.

Overall, despite featuring some well handled political intrigue and a fantastic ending, Pursuit of Peace feels disingenous and cluttered. Further proof that this season must find its legs soon, or risk losing the fanbase it so readily one back last year.

Score C
Saturday, December 18, 2010

Despite issues surrounding the handling of political issues in the past, The Clone Wars took an incredible leap in the right direction in its stellar episode Heroes on Both Sides. Deliviring stellar animation, great character moments, and a story that actually makes a relavant statement about the nature of the Clone Wars, this episode easily stands as one of the best in the series.

Following recent losses in the Outer Rim seiges, the Republic finds itself in need of further clone troops to support the war effort. However, the already bankrupt system needs more funds in order for such troops to be created. This quickly becomes a point for debate, especially amongst the Trade Federation, Banking Clan, and Techno union who are dealing under the table with Separatist forces. Opposed to the entire idea of further troop development is the ever idealistic Padme Amidala. In a bid to escape from the increasingly volatile situation in the Senate, she along with Ahsoka make a covert trip to vist a friend of hers on the Separatist council. Meanwhile, Dooku has taken his own measures to make sure that the war between the two factions continues.

One of the most complex stories so far, the script for Heroes on Both Sides is surprisingly strong. Devoid of the bland and silly dialogue that often hampers this series, this surprisingly strong politically centered episode provides moments of incredibly poignancy and character. Padme's idealism feels genuine instead of annoyingly naive, and Ahsoka's lack of political understanding also creates for an interesting scenario. Raised in a society already at war, Ahsoka, like many of the younger viewers of the show, does not fully understand the political realities behind the conflict. Her character growth over the course of this outing is well written and suits both the character and the series.

The politics in this episode are also handled well. In the past when The Clone Wars has attempted to use politics as the basis for an episode it has often fallen on its face. This time Heroes on Both Sides creates an intriguing economic issue that is littered with good character moments. Most importantly is the fact that the series finally realizes that the Confederacy is not simply an army of machines, but a political system with people and citizens of its own. Add in an effective and violent final act that plays on current fears of domestic terrorism and you have a well detailed and fleshed out plot.

This episode is also noteworthy for its impressive visual design. The scenes of a post attack Coruscant are shockingly realistic and create the feel for a war time atmosphere. Most breathtaking are views of the Separatist world Raxus, which is the most artistic planet design to date.

Also worthy of note is that this episode stands out as being the first to feature new character desings for Anakin, Obiwan, and Ahsoka. Refitted with outfits more fitting maturing characters, its a clever reminder by the crew that we are moving towards an inevitable endgame.

Perhaps the only down points on Heroes on Both Sides are two jarringly awkward moments surrounding the terrorist side plot. There is a scene where Grievous adresses his droid servants as if they were real soldiers. The nature of this scene and the way it is executed feel incredibly out of place and awkward. Later, the suicide droids attack a facility of maitenance workers before completing their mission. While overall an effective scene, it is bizarre to see that all of the workers have the same character model. This has never been an issue before in the series. Even the clones have distinct characteristics and details that make them individuals. This makes this design oversight seem incredibly lazy and disappointing.

Overall, Heroes on Both Sides delivers one of the best episodes of the entire series with stellar animation and an impressive script.

Score: -A
With the big holiday releases pouring in, studios are taking advantage of attention towards such films as Harry Potter, Narnia, and Tron by delivering some sneak previews of film's to come. Which trailer's tease well, and which are more likely to scare away?

Green Lantern

One of the most beloved super heroes of all time, DC's Green Lantern is long over due for a screen adaptation. Starring hear throb Ryan Reynolds as the title character, the film seemed sure to deliver. That is until this overly sexed up, unconvincing, and downright silly trailer started airing in theaters starting last November. Fans should keep their fingers crossed that this film stays their brightest day, and not the blackest night it seems to be.

Score: D+

Cowboys and Aliens

This gritty and violent trailer makes its point very early on: Cowboys and Aliens is not the fun comedy rump people were expecting. Not even playing to its camp value at all this haunting and effective teaser creates a sci-fi western that is cool, realistic, and creepy. Add in some badassery from Daniel Craig in the lead role and you have a killer trailer for a film that's quickly becoming one of the most anticipated releases of next summer.

Score: A

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

An announcement trailer, as Michael Bay put it, this teaser for next summer's Transformers sequel, and probable finale, surprisingly works. Although hinting at a conspiracy that may well be the film's down fall, there is little denying that this tease is as intriguing as it is visually stunning. Here's hoping to a sequel that delivers on its potential.

Score: B+


A gamble to begin with, Marvel's Thor adaptation still stands on uneven ground. Although sporting some impressive visual effects, a strong cast, and a increasingly interwoven multiverse (note the SHIELD agent from Iron Man), there are things about Thor that just seem off. Asgard looks more like a Flash Gordon sequel then a home to Norse gods, and many of the costume designs are incredibly goofy. However, the Earth scenes fairs much better, with Natalie Portman and the famous Destroyer armor stealing the show.

Score: B

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Although not the train wreck many were expecting, the first glimpse at the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film is still worrisome. Most of this comes from the film's apparent overreliance upon Jack Sparrow to carry the film. While the drunken pirate was easily a high point of the previous three installments, being tempered with a strong supporting cast, now absent from the series, kept the audiences from feeling over exposed. Jack's antics even grow tiring within the course of this trailer, with little else truly going on. Even more concerning is the injection of a love interest that does not seem to fit the feel of the series or the character. Fairly, there are moments of genuine fun and it is good to hear those old music cues agin.

Score: C+

When Disney released Tron over twenty years ago it created a cult phenomena. Although the digitally created video game adventure was not a huge hit with critics or the box office, a legion of die hard fans kept the fuel for the film alive for decades. Talks of a sequel to the classic have been in talks for years, and yesterday Disney unveiled the sequel, Tron: Legacy, to the world. With a new mythology, hero, and bigger and flashier special effects, the question was whether this sequel would capture the spirit of the original. In many ways, both good and bad it does.

Tron Legacy picks up twenty years after the ending of the original film. Tron's protagonist Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) after building his corporate empire to new heights disappears into the night, leaving behind his son Sam (Garret Hedlund) in the process. Years go by and Sam is left alone to fend for himself and the company. However, one night Sam is informed that his father may in fact be alive, trapped inside the digital world he created more then twenty years before. Sam is soon catapulted into a world of electronic chaos as he is forced to find his father and save both realities.

Tron Legacy is almost dutifully faithful sequel to its cult favorite predecessor. In fact, it suffers from some of its same flaws.

The majority of what is wrong with Tron Legacy lies in the script by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. While high in concept and featuring several story points that are actually rather intriguing, the writing is ultimately the film's downfall. The character's, despite having some strong background work, do not grow as the film progresses. The general plot also covers all too familiar ground. However, the writing's real downfall comes from its terrible dialogue. Hitting every possible cliche, character's spout out lines that become laughable. The only exchange that ever really hits home surrounds a rather genuine dinner sequence between Sam and his father. In fact its the character high point of the film.

The actor's for the most part do their best with the script they are given. Garret Hedlund is only competent at playing the film's protagonist, but yet again he is given little room to work. Olivia Wilde fairs much better as the mysterious and sexy Quorra. In an incredibly artificial world, Wilde feels oddly genuine. Jeff Bridges also performs well as both Sam's father and the villain CLU. However, the true scene stealer of the entire film comes from the short appearance of Michael Sheen's flamboyant club owner Castor. His digital insanity becomes oddly captivating, and his surrealism hits a mark that the rest of the cast never manages to.

The real star of this film are the visuals. Like its predecessor, Tron Legacy's incredible art design and special effects are eye popping throughout the course of the film. Bolstered by above par 3D effects, director Joseph Kosinski wows with creative and fun visual set peices. From disc duels to light bike battles, Tron delivers on the action and spectacle that its video game premise promises. A less obvious achievement is the digital deaging of actor Jeff Bridges for his role as CLU. Modeled after the 1980's Bridges, CLU is incredibly convincing throughout the course of the film. There are few moments where the true nature of the deaging process becomes apparent, but these are fleeting and do not take away from the effect.

Another standout is Daft Punk's score. Mixing electronic dance beats and orchestral cues the French techno duo create an audio treat that complement the visuals in almost perfect fashion. In many ways, Tron functions better as a music video/light show then it does as a film.

Ultimately, despite featuring a decidedly subpar script, Tron Legacy is a fun and faithful adaptation of the original classic. Although sure to be as hit or miss as its predecessor, the film does have its audience. It's loud, pretty, and at moments a whole lot of fun. Just remember to plug your ears whenever a character opens their mouth.

Score: -B