Friday, July 23, 2010

Review: Inception

Non-Spoiler Review:
Inception is brought to you by Dark Knight’s Christopher Nolan. He’s always had a string of successes as far as my movie going enjoyment is concerned, so I was pretty sure he would hit the mark with this one. I was getting a bit tired of seeing the trailer, as it seemed to be attached to every movie I’ve seen in the last few months.

The film’s conceit is that in this world/near future, science allows people to enter and manipulate the dreams of others, with the ultimate goal of extracting information, usually corporate secrets. Leonardo DiCaprio is the leader of this particular group and he's on the run from the law in the United States (for reasons that unfold in the film). He and his team are hired to go about infiltrating dreams of powerful people. When a big job comes up promising some sort of freedom for DiCaprio, he assembles a special team to carry it out.

Inception is a heist film on many levels, and crosses over various genres—action, thriller and sci fi. The cast is a great ensemble, including Ellen Page (Juno), Tom Hardy (a hairier Shinzon from Star Trek: Nemesis), and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun). In addition, there are Batman alumni, Ken Watanabe, Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy. Each has a special talent to contribute to the team. Page is the architect of the dream landscape, Hardy can imitate others in dreams, another is a chemist who can sedate them long enough to accomplish their mission, and so on.

Inception is a complex film, but does a good job in explaining its conceits throughout, as long as the audience pays attention. There are several levels of dreams within dreams within dreams that will have your eyes stuck to the screen as events unfold simultaneously on several levels. The dream world is portrayed on a grand scale of vast cities employing architectural paradoxes and abrupt transitions. But throughout the film, the internal consistency of the dream logic is maintained.

I was hooked throughout the two and a half hour running time. The film did not feel long at all, and I believe it accomplished everything it set out to do. It’s nice to see a summer movie that has action, smarts, great characters, and raises philosophical questions. The cast, visuals and score make for a fulfilling experience. The soundtrack is by Hans Zimmer, and if you’re a fan, it’s worth a listen. 

I highly recommend this if you’re looking or something smart this summer. I will definitely be checking it out a few times. If the running time scares you, then you’re likely not going to enjoy it at all. In which case, stick to Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.

Spoilers Now!
Chris Nolan did a great job creating and explaining the internal logic of the dream world. That being said, while there was spectacular visual wonderment, it didn’t seem as surreal as an actual dream. I’m reminded of Twin Peak’s classic dancing dream man scene from the mind of David Lynch—that really conveyed the bizarre nature of what transpires in a dream. I guess an argument can be made that these dreams are constructed and laid out by the architect (Ellen Page), and thus would be very straightforward in their appearance, so it's not really a problematic point.

Nolan also didn't go for an easy Matrix-like plot device—if you die in the dream, you die in reality. Instead, you normally just wake up. The threat later comes when the characters are so sedated that if they die in the dream, they will fall into limbo, losing their mind in their real bodies. 

Leonardo was actually one of the least interesting of the cast, as far as character. He seems to channel the same character these days (the angsty Revolutionary Road type). He’s still likable, though, but I found the likes of Ellen Page and Tom Hardy more interesting to watch.

One thing I did have a quibble about was the limbo scene with Watanabe and Leonardo. It’s obvious that the moments from Watanabe’s death to the scene in the hall amounted to decades of dream time for him, but there was no sense how much time Leonardo had spent there searching for him. His appearance was pretty much the same. I guess his time there amounted only to months or a few years of searching, but a little more time might have been devoted to this denouement, considering it was bookending the movie. Otherwise it felt a bit tacked on after the climax as a bit of housecleaning of plot, especially since dream limbo was described as this ultimate hell, but a few quick words of encouragement and both Watanabe and DiCaprio wake up in their seats no worse for the wear. 

That also brings up the psychological damage of spending decades in dream time and waking up with only hours passing in real life. How would your mind process all that memory? Wouldn't your day to day existence be a constant struggle to sort out which life you're remembering? For that matter, how much of these dreams do people remember upon waking? Is it like real life, when you only get snippets of it? Yet Leonardo seems to recall a lot of detail of his years spent with Mal. The extractors themselves must keep their full memories of the time they spend in someone else's dream, otherwise they'd be of no use.  

Of course, the final moments are the subject of the debate—Mal’s infinitely spinning top mentioned earlier in the film. The last scene was specifically all from Leonardo’s perspective, so it could easily be that he’s lost in limbo and this was his never ending dream (in which case, my earlier quibbles would be made redundant). It was a fitting ending, given we, as the audience suffered a similar inception of this idea to take away with us. And much like films like Pan’s Labyrinth, you can decide ultimately what ending you want to believe.

I’ll definitely be picking this one up on DVD, as I’m sure it will reward with multiple viewings.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: Predators

Non Spoiler Review:
Predators is the latest take on the sci-fi franchise, brought to you by Robert Rodriguez (Grindhouse). Starring Adrian Brody (who is surprisingly super buff these days) and Alice Braga (the girl from I Am Legend), the movie jumps right into the action with all the characters awaking in freefall over an unknown jungle, their parachutes opening at the last minute and leaving a stunned crew to assemble and get their bearings.

All the characters have some particular talent to contribute to the group (Brody being a mercenary, Braga as a special ops soldier and Topher Grace as a doctor with a fortunate knowledge of poisonous plants and toxins). The rest of the cast is an eclectic assortment of global badasses—Spetsnaz, Yakuza, Mexican drug cartel, death row murderer, etc. It’s not too long before they realize they’ve been assembled for their particular talents, and...something in the!

Predators is a very good sequel to the original. I had initially thought this movie was a reboot, but was pleased with the reference to the 1980s Guatamala incident noted by one of the characters. We also get several additional homages to the original.

All the characters are good types for this movie, and no one really does anything illogical or crazy that flies in the face of the situation. They are true to their respective military/psychopath/mercenary natures, and aside from the non-military types in the group, are very good planners and hunters themselves–the monsters of their world as one character notes.

The Predators vs Aliens movies are blessedly not referenced (at least from what I could tell). Though I swear I saw an Alien skeleton at one point. The Predator mythology gets some interesting additions, and there is new tech and gear to be had.

My only quibble was the somewhat predictable ending. There was a point when it looked like the story was going to climax in a radically darker direction, but ultimately did not. That being said, the ending was satisfying (for a Predator film).

I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of the franchise and enjoy a good, old-fashioned sci-fi action movie (and by old-fashioned, I realize there was blessedly little overt CGI stuff in there).

Spoilers Now!
I really don’t have anything negative to say about the movie, as it met my expectations. Its nice to see something decent out of this franchise again.

The cast fatality count wasn’t too surprising as far as who was getting picked off, just in what order.

The addition of a bigger, badder Predator species that was in conflict with the original ones was a nice new take on the mythology.

I will admit to figuring out Topher Grace was a psychopathic serial killer type earlier on (I mean, no overt weapons or physical prowess, but an amenable, joking demeanour—that screams psychopath). He seemed to know a little too much about neurotoxins and was the only innocent of the group that was always being used as bait—the everyman to garner the audience sympathy.

I was questioning Adrian Brody’s rational when he was planning on getting the Predator to fly him back to Earth. That just seemed so outrageous the movie would have lost me if that had actually happened. Whether he actually intended that, or was already planning on his decoy ploy, it worked out nicely at the end. But, the darker ending I'd have loved to see was Brody abandoning them AND killed in the ship explosion, with the doctor as the lone survivor of the group after killing Isabel. THAT would have been ballsy, but probably would not have been an audience favorite (except for me).

There were a few clichés they relied on in this movie, particularly the crazy old-timer cliché (Laurence Fishburne), who has somehow managed to survive ten hunting seasons despite being insane. Of course, when the new group shows up, somehow his happy life of seclusion goes immediately in the toilet as the Predator finds him and kills him RIGHT AWAY. Note to all survivalists: Do not help anyone.

So, if you happened to see the trailer where Adrian Brody is marked by like a dozen laser sights…that wasn’t in the movie! He gets targeted by one! Marketing bastards!
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