Thoughts on recently-seen movies (on Blu-Ray). <MINOR SPOILERS, PERHAPS - BUT NOTHING CRITICAL>
Inception: Definitely in my top 5 for the year, but not without flaws. The Blu-Ray has an interesting animated prologue that sets up the events in the film's opening sequence (the other extras are rather ho-hum except for the requisite "how they did the FX" stuff. This animated bit - NOT written or directed by Christopher Nolan - is a bit long but fits nicely with the story and helps set up who hired Leo and gang for their first mission with Ken Watanabe. It also introduces the idea that you can have "dream training" to dream up security officers to protect you within your own dreams, an interesting concept that was explained too late in Nolan's film. As the movie plays without this cartoon sequence, it's more than a little confusing for first-time viewers. Much of that is deliberate, of course, but still irritating. BTW - and as with Nolan's The Dark Knight - Inception looks fantastic on BR. Oh, and the cast is amazing (even if some of them - such as Michael Caine - are given little to do). Can you believe there are 7 Oscar nominees in this?! (They are Leo, Caine, Watanabe, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Tom Berenger, Pete Postlewaithe.)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: I bought this on BR as I - surprisingly - never owned it previously. It's prolly Ang Lee's best film, and one of the most entertaining of the year 2000. The rooftop chase, the treetop swordfight, and the tea house battle are still thrilling sequences to watch, but the slightly-cheesy ending is a bit of a groaner this time out (though in all fairness, it's a trademark of the genre - see also "House of Flying Daggers" for even more cheesiness). Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh have wonderful chemistry, but they share less screen time than I seem to remember. Zhang Ziyi - a Crankyland favorite IIRC (I know the Li'l General is a particular fan) - shows promise as an actress if she can keep her facial pouting under control; too bad we haven't seen her in much lately. I do have to say, though, that I was disappointed in the Blu-Ray transfer. Not many extras and the visuals are not as crisp as others I've seen.
The Matrix: LOOKS FANTASTIC. I was sold when - during the opening sequence, there is a close-up shot of Carrie-Anne Moss and you can see, in detail, the pores on her face. I hadn't see this in awhile and it was better (and less cheesy) than I remember it to be. In fact, I'd wager it to be one of the ten best sci-fi films of the 1990s, and of the year 1999 as well (a great year of cinema that also gave us The Sixth Sense, American Beauty, Toy Story 2, Being John Malkovich, Election, The Iron Giant, and others). Too bad the sequels felt so unnecessary (to me) and uninspired.
The Bridge on the River Kwai: Here's one of the all-time classics, and it's as good as it ever was. William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins (all playing "good guys"), and Sessue Hayakawa (as the desperate Japanese colonel) breathe wonderful life into their wonderfully-complex characters. I'd warrant this film has the best character development of any WWII film (Note: if you reply that Terrence Malick's brutally-uneven The Thin Red Line was better, I'll have to body slam your scrotum.). As for the transfer, it looks great except for a few shots (the prison escape early in the film, for example) where the color saturation was too strong b/c David Lean was forced to shoot into direct sunlight.
Monsters, Inc.: In a word: wow. I caught this on cable recently and marveled at how vibrant the colors were, so I decided to pick it up on BR. The best-looking film of the ones listed here. The monster Sully (John Goodman) looks real - like a child's stuffed animal. A sequence late in the film when he's lying face-down in the snow and the snow sticks to his fur is perhaps the visual high point in terms of realism. Damn you, Pixar, for making such amazing films. And damn you, Disney, for putting out such a fantastic-looking, extras-packed disc.
Coming up soon: Avatar and Iron Man reviews.