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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

INCEPTION (2010) - Christopher Nolan

You know, it’s a wonderful thing when somebody or something continues to surprise you, no matter how much you think they’ve reached the pinnacle of their ability in whatever field that may be. These people are rare, and when they give the world something, it’s a joy to behold. One such person is Christopher Nolan. Every time I watch one of his movies, I think ‘well, that’s it. He’ll never top that film.’ Sure, it could be argued that Insomnia was a blemish on an otherwise incredible resume. But even as thrillers go, Insomnia is better than most.

After The Dark Knight, I thought Nolan couldn’t possibly do better. Oh, how wrong I was. His first original film since Memento, which in itself was adapted from his brother Jonathan’s short story. So it could be argued that Inception is Nolan’s first true original since his first feature, Following.

The story centres on Dom Cobb, incidentally, also the name of the protagonist in Following. Cobb specialises in ‘Extraction,’ which is essentially the theft of an idea. But to steal this idea, Cobb enters the dreams of the target, and manipulates them into giving him the information. After a botched theft, Cobb’s latest target, Saito has a proposition. Help him implant an idea in a rival’s mind, and he can help Cobb with an event from his past that keeps Cobb away from his family. This ‘heist,’ called ‘Inception,’ is theoretically impossible. But Cobb thinks he can do it. So he gathers his team and embarks on the mind-crime.

Sounds complicated. And in true Christopher Nolan, the film requires absolute concentration. It is so rare nowadays that a film maker treats the audience’s intelligence with respect and demands work in order to understand the film. This is what Nolan works for, and we, the audience reap the benefits. Inception is one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in years. It really cannot be described as it has to be seen to be believed. Nolan quoted a movie mogul from the early days of cinema when he said he wanted to ‘start with an earthquake and build to a climax.’ And that’s pretty much what Inception goes for.

Some have complained that the early part of the film features a lot of talking. And it does. The world of Inception has to be created, and Nolan uses his characters to do that. Yet, it never gets boring. While there is explaining to be done, Nolan keeps you hooked with both ideas and execution. There are moments when you can’t help but be blown away by how these ideas are presented. Nolan understands science-fiction and what makes it so damn cool. And he delivers his ideas with gusto. And then there are the action sequences. I’ve seen the film twice now. I thought the impact would be lessened on second viewing. But I found myself giggling with delight at how these scenes are shot. And when really just makes them all the more spectacular is that the sequences are done physically. Nolan only uses computers when something is physically impossible. And so, there are scenes you know are done in the real world, and they leave you guessing at how they are pulled off. And that’s just more fun!

The cast are brilliant. Nolan has the ability to cast his films perfectly, taking risks where the average schmuck (you and me) may question the casting. I refer in particular to the back-lash that came from some quarters when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker. Leonardo DiCaprio has the difficult task of carrying a film built on some pretty far-out ideas. And he delivers with gusto. Ellen Page has an equally difficult task of playing Basil Exposition, but she handles the role admirably. The rest of the cast, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Thomas Hardy, Marion Coutillard in particular is brilliantly creepy, Ken Watanabe, and Cillian Murphy are all fantastic.

Inception is the best science-fiction film in years. And after how good 2009 was for science-fiction, that certainly is saying something. And mercifully, Nolan has no time for 3D. I feel it certainly would have detracted from the experience. And an experience is what Inception is. It’s multi-layered. You will discover things on multiple watches that you missed previously. The sound design is amazing. Hans Zimmer’s score is as close a composer can come to actually delivering on a vision set out by a director. This is rewarding blockbuster cinema viewing. Hopefully studios will take notice of the quality of the film, the reviews and the box-office takings and green-light many more ambitious projects such as Inception.

I say this now. And I hope I eat my words in years to come- Inception is Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. I sincerely hope he bests it some day.


TOY STORY 3 (2010) - Lee Unkrich

It’s been a while. To be honest, the cinema has been vomiting up some pretty poor fare over the last few months. But over the last week, I saw what will probably be numbers one and two on the top 10 list of 2010, so I figured I should say something about them. The first film on the list is the latest from the greatest studio now in production. Toy Story 3.

It’s been fifteen years since Woody and Buzz first hit the big screen, kick-starting the Pixar revolution into gear. Since that time, Pixar have gone from strength to strength. And in one way, Toy Story 3 is a fitting bench-mark to see just how far the studio has come. Both in technical ability, and in terms of story-telling.

Andy, the human key to the Toy Story world has grown up. He’s finished school, and is about to leave home for college. And by doing this, he must leave his childhood toys behind. But what is to come of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and all the rest of the toys? Woody, Andy’s most cherished toy, will accompany him to college. But the rest of the toys will go to the attic, a sort of rest-home for toys until they are rediscovered by Andy and given to his own children. But a mix-up in packaging results in the toys being sent to day-care, a seemingly heaven for toys. But all is not what it seems in day-care. And the toys must escape, while Woody struggles to reach his friends and help them escape.

Being the final part in the Toy Story trilogy, Toy Story 3 packs quite the emotional punch. Like Andy, we’re leaving the characters behind. They’ve given us some cherished memories, but like all good things, they must be fondly remembered, and passed on to the next generation. Toy Story 3, really does make you laugh, but it’s laughter tinged with sadness. As with all Pixar movies, the film’s strength lies in it’s story. There are many studios that produce technically brilliant animated films, but few reach the heights of Pixar’s films. It’s Pixar’s ability to pack an emotional punch that has made films such as Toy Story, Wall-E and Up such incredible films.

And yet, I find myself going against the general consensus. I don’t think it’s the best of the trilogy. Don’t get me wrong. Toy Story 3 is both technically astonishing and brilliantly written. But there were parts of the film when I though I’d seen it before. There are some recycled story elements. Sometimes these work as winks and nods to what came before. But it is nit-picking. Toy Story 3 is (Buzz) Light-years ahead of it’s competition. In fact, it’s light-years ahead of most films. The voice-work is as usual, brilliant. In particular, the addition of the Ken doll, voiced by Michael Keaton is hilarious in both vocal performance and animation.

Toy Story 3 is probably the best closing chapter of any trilogy. And the Toy Story trilogy itself is near-perfect. The Pixar team are just awe-inspiring in their ability to craft stories that assault your emotions as well as your eye-balls. And with Toy Story 3, they really have knocked it out of the park. Again.