★★ / ★★★★
Early on in the picture, a woman carrying a Symbiote—an extraterrestrial parasite that hitchhiked on a space probe while its way back to Earth following a reconnaissance mission—ejects lethal barbs from her back, but when the camera pans around her, the clothing has no hole in it. This perfectly sums up the level of carelessness of “Venom,” directed by Ruben Fleischer, a seldom entertaining and often boring superhero film. It might have benefited from a couple more rounds of rewrites.
One of the titular Symbiotes eventually makes its way inside the body of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who gets fired for asking all the right questions involving a bio-engineering corporation led by the ambitious but unethical Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). It isn’t a coincidence that the probe that crashed in Malaysia is owned by Life Foundation; Drake plans to fuse these so-called Symbiotes with human bodies in order to save our mankind from certain extinction once Earth is no longer a viable place to live. Make no mistake: Moral quandaries regarding the use of science and technology in relation to the betterment of society is handled like sledgehammer to the face. There is no genuine or heartfelt human drama to be had here, just a series of empty action sequences.
At least a few of these pieces are handled with mid-level proficiency. Brock discovering his abilities when hired goons enter his apartment comes to mind. Another is a motorcycle chase across the hilly streets of San Francisco. Rain of bullets and car crashes are served like clockwork, but I enjoyed that there is humor embedded in them. Hardy finds a way to make Eddie the loser more palatable than the standard variety. It is easy to tell that he is up to task of playing with different types of comedy, so it most unfortunate that the screenplay does not possess the requisite creativity and intelligence to make a strange, darkly amusing, and convincing story. I felt as though the project was shaped so that studios can make the most money first and entertain the audience second. It shows.
The villain is generic from the moment we meet him until he is defeated. Ahmed, like Michelle Williams who plays Brock’s love interest, looks as though he is sleepwalking through the role. He is a performer with range, but he cannot be blamed in this scenario. The character is so unchallenging, imagine the CEO on mute and the effect would be negligible. It appears as though screenwriters Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, have forgotten that a superhero film is only as good as its villain(s). So why not strive to give Drake more personality, dimension?
Perhaps the only element I found to be marginally impressive in this parade of mediocrity is the CGI Symbiotes. They are creepy and curious when they are slithering about without defined shape, and they are quite threatening when they feel the need to defend themselves. But the material is so dull, especially when the human characters are supposed to be connecting emotionally, I wished I were watching “The X-Files”—specifically the black oil/alien virus episodes—since the film and the television show have similar ideas on how an entity assumes control of its host’s body, its sentience, its ability to communicate. The legendary television show is able to take the concept on another level while the film appears content in having flatlined.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Those expecting character, or characters, to latch onto, to understand, to care for, are setting themselves up for disappointment because writer-director Christopher Nolan is more interested in the motion of chess pieces across the board than he is at psychoanalysis in “Dunkirk,” one of the most efficient and beautifully photographed war films in recent memory. Every minute serves a purpose with the ominous score looming above and between the horrific evacuation of four hundred thousand Allied soldiers from the titular beach where tides change every three interminable hours.
Tension builds in a consistent manner despite the viewer not knowing the names of soldiers and civilians the story follows. Survival is the central motivation of every person on screen and it is the only element required to create a sense of urgency. Precise with lingering shots of hollowed and pallid soldiers during heavy silences and agile camera work when action and barrage of noise move toward the spotlight, a mesmerizing rhythm is established as the project dives in deep to underline the disasters of this particular evacuation and goes up eventually for a breath of air, of hope, but only for a fleeting moment. Nolan’s laser focus in telling the story equals that of his unique vision for the material.
Perhaps the most impressive chunks of the picture are those that contain no standard dialogue. Pay close attention to the opening scene, for example, as hurried footsteps, rapid breathing, and bullets ricocheting do the talking. Meanwhile, the veteran writer-director ensures to capture the eyes of the target (Fionn Whitehead), who looks more like a boy than a man, as desperation turns to hope and back again. Clearly, with this particular story being told in such a specific way, making room for classic or expected character development would only impede the momentum of the material. Nolan is correct to strip it away for what he intends to deliver is a visceral experience.
Despite images detailing the horrors of war, they are not without astounding beauty. Aerial shots of endless lines and rows of men in dark uniform against the bright sand, ships tilted to the side and being swallowed up by cold water before our very eyes after being bombed, dogfights requiring incredible attention as threats can and do appear at every direction are only some of the examples of the film’s visual feasts. Despite these stunning images, however, we never forget about the bullet-ridden bodies, cold corpses buried in the sand, drowned individuals who were eager to get home just a few moments ago. Couple these images and impressions with carefully executed dialogue of old men sending young boys to fight the war that the former started. A tragic feeling pervades the material.
“Dunkirk” is a top-level war film without sentimentality. Those who require selfless heroism shot in a grandiose way as score crescendos, designed to render the viewers emotionally vulnerable, are certain to be letdown by this most capable and confident work. In my mind, there is no doubt that the film will endure the test of time.
Revenant, The (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“The Revenant,” directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is so headstrong in maintaining its high level of realism that at times it feels like we are watching a most captivating nature documentary about a man attempting to survive in the harshest wilderness. In many ways, it is a brave picture, too, because it is unrelenting when it comes to taking its time to follow a character getting from one point to another, how he relates to his environment, and how the thirst for revenge keeps him alive. And yet while the plot is driven by one man’s vengeance, it is not what the movie is about.
Following a most gruesome bear attack, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a trapper, is unable to move, bloodied, verging on death. Although his team tries to take him home, carrying him creates limitations that prevent the group from moving forward. Convinced that there is no other option, the captain of their party (Domhnall Gleeson) asks three to volunteer and stay behind until Glass is dead. In addition, Glass must receive a proper burial. Two boys—Jim (Will Poulter) and Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the latter Glass’ half-Native American son—and a man named John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) agree to take on the responsibility. However, a misunderstanding occurs which leads to Hawk’s murder and Glass being left for dead.
A scene that will be seared in my brain for a while is the aforementioned bear attack. Already impressive is it appears as though the scene is shot in one smooth take. On top of it is the actual bear used in the scene. Through the way it moves from the back of the frame to the front, we get a real impression of its size. The sound effects of distinct thuds give us an idea of its weight relative to its prey. I watched in complete horror as the protagonist is mauled, thrown around, and bit. The screams of the man, the deep angry growls of the animal, and the silence that settles in between the savage attacks create an unforgettable experience.
DiCaprio offers a strong performance. Because he does not have very many lines, most of the time he is required to communicate using only his body, face, and eyes. Even more impressive are moments when his entire body is covered and what can be seen is only his face. His character does not undergo an expected arc—and in a film of such high caliber as this, such a predictability is a hindrance.
I argue that more important is the fact that the performer almost takes on the spirit of the animal that tried to kill Glass. Notice the way he moves following the attack. He crawls, limps, grunts, and is consistently covered in grime. Look at his item of clothing, the way he eats raw fish, and the manner in which he is hunted by the Indians. DiCaprio captures the barbaric animalism that is required of his character to survive in the deep forest.
Based in part on Michael Punke’s novel and screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant,” dreary and devoid of humor but not little ironies, may not appeal to the general public because it leans toward creating a realistic experience rather than easily digestible entertainment, but it is a piece of work that packs undeniable beauty and power. It is, however, for audiences who like to be challenged and to see the medium expand into a territory outside the traditional.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
Assigned to drive a massive truck to collect gasoline, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has another plan: once there is a good distance between the vehicle and her starting point, she would veer off-track and return to her homeland—along with five wives of cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byryne). A hot pursuit erupts, with ailing Nux (Nicholas Hoult), chained to a prisoner named Max (Tom Hardy), hoping to impress Immortan Joe so he can be welcomed to Valhalla when he dies.
“Mad Max: Fury Road,” directed by George Miller, is an orgasmic visual exercise of yellow-orange sand, sweltering heat, vehicle acrobatics, dramatic explosions, and deformed, heavy makeup-wearing citizens of a collapsed world bound by no rules. Even without a deep story, it engages thoroughly because the images are so hyperbolic, there is not one film that is remotely like it in the past decade.
The action scenes are inspired and creative. The picture is composed of one long chase sequence but there is variety in the counters between heroes/heroines and villains. With each geographic change, we get an idea about the group of people who live within that area. Particularly memorable is the biker gang waiting atop a narrow canyon. A deal has been made between the gang and Furiosa. Based on how the scene is shot as our protagonists enter the canyon, we know immediately that something is about to go wrong.
Such is the film’s strength: it is shot with a sense of urgency. Although the narration in the beginning briefly describes the circumstances that led to humanity’s decay, we remain curious about its universe nonetheless because it does not spell out every detail. As the characters trek across dry terrains, we discover the journey with them. For instance, the challenge is not only avoiding or eliminating those who try to kill them. All characters must also be wary of and be prepared for the cruel environment that awaits.
At times the picture attempts to do too much. A romantic connection is introduced eventually which does not work at all. The problem is, we have a basic understanding about only half of the would-be couple. Character depth and development is not one of the film’s strengths and so such a desperate attempt to get us emotionally involved, through a romantic scope, comes across as forced and unnecessary. Sometimes less is more.
The two leads, Hardy and Theron, and two supporting actors, Hoult and Keays-Byrne, are a joy to watch because they are unafraid to exaggerate their emotions, to look unattractive physically, to embody their deranged characters completely. Each one commands a high level of creative energy and so he or she is front and center, there is a magnetism and charisma to the performance. We are inspired to learn more about each one of these characters and yet the material has a way of always keeping us at arm’s length. Perhaps we are not meant to get to know these people for their world is so different than ours, they might as well have been of a different species.
Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a visual spectacle but there is room for some improvement as mentioned previously. I see potential as a modern franchise—one that is not about superheroes or chosen ones destined to save a dystopian world, but one that is about a decaying world and the degenerates who are struggling to survive in it.
★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Steven Knight, “Locke” strips away the glamour of modern storytelling—fancy twists designed to make the audience feel that what they are sitting through is “smart,” putting the camera in so-called creative positions to simulate realism, hyperactive, tough- and trash-talking dialogue in place of true insight or substance—and focuses on a performance: Tom Hardy playing a man who will come to lose just about everything he has ever valued in a span of less than an hour and a half.
To shoot the film at night is a masterstroke. Imagine if it had been shot during the day. Because the scope of the film is small in terms of space, almost the entirety of it taking place inside a car, it is only natural that our eyes tend to wander for more stimulation. In other words, there would have been more distraction. Here, though there are lights and other vehicles outside, our eyes focus on the driver and how he deals with increasingly difficult calls—calls from his family, co-workers, and acquaintances.
The source of the gravitational pull is Hardy’s allure. Here is an actor known to transform his body and uses it as an instrument to create a compelling character—sometimes someone who we may not necessarily want to know at first glance. This is one of the few roles in which Hardy looks like a “normal” person, someone we can see walking down the street or in line at the grocery store—and we are reminded how good he really is. There is a parallel: a film stripped to its bare essentials starring an actor with nothing to hide behind.
Like all great performers, Hardy appears to be aware of every muscle on his face—especially the eyes—and he knows how to extract the most minuscule emotions necessary to be convincing in whatever he wishes to convey. Take the conversation in which the other person on the other line (Ben Daniels) is yelling at the top of his lungs. Though Hardy chooses his character to speak back with a tone of calm, notice the tension in his posture and limbs. Look at the way his face tightens at just the right moments. What results is a believable character who is mentally checking himself. He knows that if he lost his temper as well, it would not help the predicament that he was in.
There are movies, when reviewed, that require the plot to be summarized. To take on the same approach to “Locke” is a mistake because it is, for the most part, about discovery—just as the character may know who is calling him through caller ID but he has no idea how the conversation might go. What makes the picture entertaining is not just Hardy’s memorable performance but also in the anticipation of how the voices on the other line (Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott) might react. Locke can be demanding, direct to a fault at times, hurtful, but he can be quite soft, too. It is difficult to predict which trait will surface and dominate the conversation once the call is picked up.
Thus, the shades of suspense and the drama are subtle but surely there. In an age where just about everything that counts is placed right in front of us, it is refreshing that once in a while a material comes along and reminds us the value of the trifecta—the screenplay, the actor, and the director—is true and perennial.
Dark Knight Rises, The (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
Eight years since the death of Harvey Dent, a former District Attorney and one of the leaders of the fight against war on crime, organized crime had been completely exorcised from Gotham City. Since Batman took the fall for the demise of the white knight and several police officers, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) had been living as a recluse. This temporary peace in Gotham, however, was threatened by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a thewy mercenary who recently kidnapped an important scientist. But Bane was not a typical mercenary: he was a former member of the League of Shadows, the same group that trained Bruce before he created Batman, and personally exiled by its leader, Ra’s al Ghul. “The Dark Knight Rises,” directed by Christopher Nolan, delivered an absorbing exposition by allowing us to feel sympathy for the true hero that afforded Gotham citizens the kind of city they’ve always wanted. More than ever, Bale was allowed to shine in the way he meticulously but naturally portrayed a character who was no longer needed by his creators. There was drama not simply because Bruce felt lost and depressed, it was due to the fact that we knew that he deserved fulfillment, a life he could call his own, outside of the mask. No other person could understand the man behind the mask more than Alfred (Michael Cane), Bruce’s help, best friend, and father figure. The most emotionally moving sections of the film involved the two clashing in terms of what the city really needed versus how Bruce should go on with his life. Cane was so good with his line deliveries, I teared up a bit when Alfred mentioned his yearly vacation in Florence, Italy and what he hoped to see across from him while sitting in a restaurant. There was a much deserved complexity in Alfred and Bruce’s relationship which was more than I can say about Bane’s plot to so-called give the people exactly what they wanted. While the action scenes held an above average level of excitement, such as when the villain made his first public appearance, there were too many characters running all of the place–characters who were worth knowing more about. There was Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), conflicted in terms of whether he should reveal Dent’s true colors to the public; Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an ardent young man willing to fight to preserve the good in his city; and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar who wished to wipe her criminal past clean. And then there was Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), Bruce’s romantic interest that came so far out of left field, I found it completely unconvincing. There was already little chemistry between Cotillard and Bale and the writing didn’t help them in building something the audience could get behind. Each of the supporting characters was given the spotlight one way or another but the screenplay didn’t have enough time to really drill into what made them more than pawns in the people’s liberation against Bane’s grasp. And so when the denouement arrived, some of the revelations, one of which I found predictable in a fun way, did not feel entirely rewarding. Based on the screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, while “The Dark Knight Rises” was undeniably entertaining, it could be observed that perhaps it attempted to take on too much. It wasn’t a breezy bat-glide to the finish line.
This Means War (2012)
★★ / ★★★★
After FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), best friends and partners at work, turned a supposed covert assignment into a public catastrophe, their boss in the CIA (Angela Bassett) relegated them away from field work. During their time off, Tuck thought it would be a great idea to join an online dating service and see women. Luckily for him, Trish (Chelsea Handler) clandestinely created a profile for Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) because she thought her friend could use a man in her life. Eventually, though, Lauren decided to see both FDR and Tuck because she was the kind of girl who liked having options before settling for a product. “This Means War,” directed by McG, had a ridiculous premise which almost worked because its early scenes were full of swagger. Unfortunately, as it went on, it couldn’t be denied that there wasn’t much to the story and Witherspoon as a blonde Barbie was not only unsympathetic, she was not funny. Pine and Hardy had wonderful chemistry and the screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg capitalized on their characters’ opposite qualities. FDR’s softer facial features was a nice contrast against his blasé playboy lifestyle. He was so slick, he even had a swimming pool elegantly, mesmerizingly placed on his apartment ceiling. On the other hand, Tuck’s more angular features provided an interesting incongruity to his more sensitive side. Having a young son and a passive-aggressive ex-wife, it was very easy to root for Tuck to find some sort of happiness in his personal life. When FDR and Tuck were together, there was a natural bromance that oozed out of their verbal sparring, a very fun, funky energy that reminded me of how it was like to be with my best friend. Because the two were so charming in their own right, scenes that might have been creepy, like the two breaking into Lauren’s home to know more about her and use the knowledge they had acquired to gain an advantage in the dating scenarios, had a playfulness to them. Sadly, Lauren was as boring as a cardboard cutout. The writers injected neuroses in her in order to convince us that she had a semblance of a personality, but not only did her quirks not come off as amusing, it felt almost desperate. It seemed like in every point where she had to make a decision, she consulted Trish. Lauren had a fancy job in downtown L.A. but how come she couldn’t she think for herself? Trish had the funniest lines and Handler was more than capable of reaching a certain level of energy to deliver the punchlines. I wish the picture was more about her. In the middle of it, I began to wonder how the movie could have been more interesting if the two handsome bachelors tried to win Trish’ affections even if she was happily married most of the time. There was a subplot involving Heinrich (Til Schweiger), a person of interest in the eyes of the CIA, wanting revenge for the death of his brother but, like Lauren, it was just so banal. The action scenes were very uninspired, almost unnecessary. “This Means War” was an innocuous romp that desperately needed edge in order to keep its audience on their toes, to feel like we were active participants in the charade. Since pretty much everything was so safe, I noticed that there were times when my eyes began to gloss over out of the dreariness happening on screen.
★★★ / ★★★★
Charles Bronson (Tom Hardy), born as Michael Peterson, wanted one thing in life: To become famous. But where he lived at the time didn’t offer a lot of opportunities. Despite being raised in a relatively normal family, at school, he bullied other students and attacked teachers. Over time, he learned to rely on his fist instead of his brain. After robbing a post office, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. His term lasted more than thirty years and most of that time was spent under solitary confinement because of Broson’s hunger for violence. He was convinced that he could become famous for being the most violent prisoner in the country. And he was right. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, “Bronson,” based on a true story, was a painful look at a man who couldn’t discern between his true self and his alter ego. Others treated him as a bomb waiting to go off. In most of the scenes in which he was allowed to interact with other people, we felt nervous for the unsuspecting individuals because Bronson was, to say the least, highly unpredictable. We weren’t sure if, when there was a disagreement, big or small, he would decide to walk away from the situation or commit bloody murder. The movie had an interesting technique in telling Bronson’s story. There were times when he talked directly to the camera and made jokes out of extremely serious situations. It worked because while I feared him, I felt pity for him as well. What the man needed was a psychiatric evaluation and to be placed in a stable mental institution, not passing him around from one jail to another like an unwanted rag doll. While Bronson’s proclivity for violence was probably innate, it shouldn’t be a surprise to us that violence, especially in prisons, only led to more violence. Hardy’s performance was completely electrifying (and terrifying). He was fearless in embracing Bronson’s bellicose nature yet there were profoundly quiet moments, like when he would stare at his art, where we were allowed to ponder that maybe there was true humanity underneath his muscular exterior. I also enjoyed that sometimes the film was shot like a fantasy story. A prime example was when he was freed from prison because keeping him inside cost Britain a lot of money. It didn’t feel real and I began to wonder if he really was out in the world or it was just his own way of dealing with being in solitary confinement for so long. “Bronson,” surreal, eccentric, savage, was a strange journey because we ended up right where we started. I admired the way it challenged me as I juggled feelings of fear and sympathy for someone who lost track of reality.
★★★★ / ★★★★
Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic nearing his one thousandth day of being sober, found his younger son, Tommy (Tom Hardy), sitting on his porch. They hadn’t seen each other in fourteen years. But the reunion couldn’t be colder. Tommy, an ex-Marine, despised his father and claimed that the only reason why he showed up was because he needed a trainer for Sparta, a middleweight championship for mixed martial arts, where the winner would receive five million dollars. Meanwhile, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), Paddy’s eldest son, felt extreme financial pressure. As a physics teacher, he and his wife (Jennifer Morrison) didn’t make enough to pay for their mortgage. They were given a couple of weeks until their house was to be taken by the bank. So, Brendan joined the tournament, completely unaware that his younger brother, who he also hadn’t seen in more than a decade, was participating. Directed by Gavin O’Connor, “Warrior” was equally spellbinding when the characters were inside and outside of the ring. The brothers hated their father for the way he treated them and their mother when they were still growing up. The writers made a smart decision in showing us Paddy as a man on the way to recovery but never as an abusive parent. It became easier to sympathize with him. It was unnecessary to show us the latter because the psychological and emotional damages were painfully apparent in the adult Tommy and Brendan. Tommy became a pill-popping, reticent, angry figure while Brendan strived to be everything his father was not to his own wife and children. Interestingly, they shared only one scene before the tournament. It was beautifully executed and completely heartbreaking. As one inched closer to one another, their animosity and frustration became palpable and suffocating which served as a great contrast against the open space that surrounded them. I was at the edge of my seat because I almost expected them to resolve their problems by throwing punches long time coming, outside of the competition with no referee to force them to stop. However, the most powerful scene was between Tommy and Paddy. While sitting in front of a slot machine, Paddy approached his son to express that he was proud of him. Tommy responded bitterly, comparing his father to a beggar who was desperate for his sons’ affections, blind to the fact that the only thing his two sons had in common was they no longer needed him, and his decision to become a good father was years too late. The camera was nicely placed very closely in front the actors’ faces as to savor every negative emotion. In addition, it was easy to see how much their characters restrained certain words, especially the father, out of fear in regretting it later. It was like watching someone attempting to tiptoe around broken glass accompanied by a force that propelled him forward in rate he wasn’t comfortable with. “Warrior,” based on the screenplay by Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, and Cliff Dorfman, went beyond the pain experienced in body slams, direct punches to the face, and heavy kicks to the stomach. We rooted for both Brendan and Tommy because we understood what winning meant for them personally–something worth more than half a million dollars.
★★★★ / ★★★★
The film started off like a spy film: the glamorous and exotic locale, fashionable suits, femme fatales. But unlike typical espionage pictures, the first half of the characters’ goal was not to steal a valuable object but an idea located deep inside a target’s dreams. The second (and more difficult) half was to get away with it by allowing the target to wake and continue living his life as if nothing had been taken away from him. This simplified two-step process was known as “extraction,” in which Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a leading expert. Cobb was not allowed to return to the United States to see his children so Kaito (Ken Watanabe) made an offer that Cobb simply could not refuse: to plant an idea in a future corporate leader’s mind (Cillian Murphy), known as “inception,” which had rarely been done before. If this last massion was successful, it would lead to Cobb’s freedom. In order to accomplish the mission, Cobb had to assemble a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) with very special talents and they had to dive in the target’s subconscious while navigating their way through defenses set up by the mind and the secrets Cobb kept from his unsuspecting team.
When the movie started, I barely had any idea what was happening. I knew something exciting was happening on screen because of the intricate action sequences and splendid visuals but as far as the story went, it was still nondescript. However, that was not at all a problem because the film eventually established the elementary elements required so that we could have an understanding of what was about to happen. Despite its two-and-a-half-hour running time, I was impressed with its pacing. There was an assigned time for getting to know the lead character in terms of his career, his past, and his inner demons. Once I had a somewhat clear idea of his motivations, I immediately felt that there was something wrong with the way he saw the world and the specifics were eventually revealed in an elegant, sometimes emotional, and often mind-bending manner. Their missions were often sabotaged by Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb’s projection of his wife who had passed away, due to an unsolved guilt that he constantly pushed away. Throughout the course of the film, that guilt, like Mal, became more powerful and became a hindrance that the main character and his team could no longer set aside. Anyone with a background in Psychology will truly appreciate the film’s level of intelligence in terms of Sigmund Freud’s revolutionary idea involving the subconscious manifesting in our every day lives and maintaining our mental homeostasis. But what impressed me even more was the minute details in the script such as the characters mentioning topics such as positive and negative emotions interacting and which side had more power over the other, one’s sense of reality while being in a dream… within a dream, and even questions like “If we die in our dreams, do we die in real life?” were acknowledged. That’s one of the things I loved about the film: it was able to present ideas we are aware of but it just had enough dark twist to create something original.
As with most movies with grand ambitions, I had some questions left unanswered. What about those instances when we are aware that we are dreaming and we can control what will happen in our dreams? I have experienced such a phenomenon time and again (and I’m sure others have as well) and I was curious if and how the movie could explain such a strange occurrence. And what about those moments when we sleep but we are not yet dreaming? What if our dreams are interrupted? Sure, the team injected chemicals in their bodies to stabilize the feeling of reality in dreams but, as the movie perfectly illustrated, nothing completely goes according to plan. Perhaps I’m just being more analytical than I should be thanks to the fascinating sleep studies I encountered in Neurobiology and Psychology courses. But I believe a mark of a great film is open to question, interpretation and debate. I say we question because we have embraced the material and we are hungry for more. That’s how I know I’m emotionally and intellectually invested in a film. That absolute killer final shot and the audiences’ collective sigh of anticipation for the clear-cut answer as the screen cut to black was simply icing on the cake.
“Inception,” written and directed by Christopher Nolan, was certainly worth over a year’s wait since it was still in pre-production. I remember trying look for more information about it during my midterm study breaks (and getting so caught up in it) so I am completely elated that it was finally released and it turned out to be one of the finest and most rewarding movies of 2010. It may not have been its goal but “Inception” certainly adds a much needed positive reputation to mainstream movies, especially in a season full of sequels and spoon-fed entertainment. I was optimistic early 2010 in terms of the quality of movies about to be released in theaters, especially when Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” came out, but now I am more than convinced that the film industry is experiencing a drought of refreshing and daring ideas. Some critics may compare “Inception” to “The Matrix” (both great movies) but I think “Inception” functions on a higher level overall and it has an identity of its own. Perhaps an injection of new blood that is “Inception” will inspire movie studios to take more risks in terms of which movies they green light. There is no doubt that mindless, swashbuckling popcorn adventures or even extremely diluted romantic comedies have their place in the market. But with the critical and mass success of “Inception,” it shows that audiences are always ready to be inspired by new ideas and to dream a little bigger.
★★ / ★★★★
This is another picture about the London underworld which focuses on different kinds of groups who wield power (or peceive themselves to wield power when they really do not) and the dynamics within such groups. Even though I have no idea what is going on most of the time despite how much I try to pay attention, I did enjoy some scenes scattered throughout the film. There are a lot of familiar faces here such as Thandie Newton, Gerard Butler, Tom Wilkinson, Jeremy Piven and even Ludacris. But I don’t think Guy Ritchie, the writer and director, was efficient enough in pushing his actors to the best of their abilities. However, Wilkinson did a great job (as always) as one of the leaders of crooks running all over London. I was most interested whenever the camera was on him because his responses to certain changes in the story were unpredictable and the way he delivered his lines often had a morbid undertone that surpasses a mere threat. I also liked the fact that Ritchie highlighted the homoeroticism that’s consistent among these type of films. Instead of shying away from it, Ritchie included some really funny scenes between Butler and Tom Hardy. Even more impressive is the fact that those jokes felt natural–it’s something that I can actually hear from these “tough guys.” I guess my main problem with this film is that I never felt utterly included in the events that are unfolding. I think if Ritchie works on that in the second part of this trilogy (if they do make it), I would like it a bit more. This film is definitely for the fans of “Snatch” and “Layer Cake.” The cool factor is there, there are interesting characters (though more than half of them are underdeveloped), but most importantly, the humor is consistent. It just needed a bit more polishing.