Inception

Inception is very smart, very slick, and very interesting. But ultimately, it fails to tell a truly satisfying story. In truth, Inception would have been better as an indie film rather than a blockbuster– we want a satisfying story from our blockbusters, not ‘challenging art.’

Seriously, Chris, just tell us if the top falls or not.

That said, this is a fascinating look at what you can do on film.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 16, 2010

Written by Christopher Nolan

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Leonardo Di Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, and Lukas Haas

Rated: PG-13

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Story

Dom Cobb (Di Caprio) is an accomplished thief. But he doesn’t burgle homes; he burgles minds. His specialty is extracting ideas from people in a dream state, usually for the benefit of corporations that hire him. He has a solid team that includes Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), Eames (Hardy), and the newcomer Ariadne (Page).

Cobb has a dark, mysterious past that is slowly revealed throughout the story as he infiltrates people’s minds. But now Cobb has a new client that doesn’t want him to extract an idea, instead Cobb is to plant an idea. This is called ‘inception’ and is supposed to be impossible. It is also extremely dangerous.

Cue the mind-bending twists of rolling cities, spiraling hallways, and a cryptic top. The story unfolds at a brisk pace, throwing our protagonists against some unknown and not understood adversaries.

And we have the ending that isn’t an ending because it poses a question that we have been wondering the entire film but refuses to answer it.

Critique

Everything about this movie is truly wonderful and pleasing, despite it being at times hard to follow. The premise alone is fascinating and is explored wonderfully, with Nolan finding inventive ways to use modern film technologies to lend realism and eye-popping effects to what sometimes feels like a retro mobster film. The writing, up until the end, is engaging, with Cobb being both ruthless and sympathetic– indeed his ruthlessness is well founded on his past.

The rest of the characters are also interesting. Nolan clearly put a great deal of thought into each character, making sure that the film would allow each one to explore his or her arc fully. Arthur is particularly well done, as is Eames.

The problem is that the ending isn’t an ending. It’s a redundant question that the audience is robbed of the answer to. I worry that Nolan didn’t want to commit to an answer, which was why he didn’t give an answer. If that is the case, Christopher Nolan needed to buckle up and just answer the question the way the story needed it to be answered.

Otherwise, Inception is a fantastic film. Highly recommended.

Content warnings: Some language and violence.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

Dom Cobb might just infiltrate your mind and plant the desire to share this review with your network. Or save me some money and yourself some odd dreams and share it on your own.

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The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises is, overall, a pleasure to watch and is a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the splendid trilogy by Christopher Nolan. It’s long and imperfect, but worth it.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 20, 2012

Written by Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, and David Goyer, based on comics by Bob Kane

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Aaron Eckhart, Nestor Carbonell, and Chris Ellis

Rated: PG-13

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Story

Since taking the fall for Harvey Dent’s (Eckhart) crimes eight years ago, Batman has been in hiding, essentially retired, and Bruce Wayne (Bale) has been a hermit. (Interesting that nobody seems to make the connection…) But when Wayne Enterprises suffers financially and Wayne has a chance to get an altruistic investor named Miranda Tate (Cotillard) involved in helping his company, Wayne leaves his isolation. He also meets a talented cat  burglar named Selina Kyle (Hathaway).

Then Bane (Hardy) shows up and essentially wants to lay waste to the city of Gotham, ostensibly freeing the populace from the rule of the upper class. Now Batman has to use all of his resources to escape from a horrible prison that Bane tossed him in and save his city from all out destruction. He gains an untrustworthy ally in Kyle, still has Lucius Fox (Freeman) around to help him with gadgets, and of course has his trust butler, Alfred (Caine), by his side.

Add to all of this Commissioner Gordon (Oldman) wishing he could tell the world the truth about the hero Batman and a young, determined cop named Blake (Gordon-Levitt) who wants to make a difference in the world and help Batman.

Bane’s plan is complex and very destructive and he is very businesslike in his brutality and battle. Batman’s hurts are real and his burden will likely require his life. Selina Kyle seems to want to escape from her thieving life. Alfred wants Bruce Wayne to leave Batman behind and help his city as Bruce Wayne, finding a full and happy life for himself. Blake wants to stop Bane and keep Batman around so the sometimes impotent police can get a hand.

While the story gets quite complex, and we don’t see a lot of Batman and instead see a lot more of Catwoman and Blake and Gordon, this is still a very fine movie, albeit somewhat long. But so much of good happens in this film that the running time is totally forgivable.

Critique

The writing of The Dark Knight Rises is a clinic on tight plotting, thread weaving, and character-driven action. Each event that occurs comes about because a character has made a choice, which is why the movie is so engaging the entire time. True, we only first see Batman himself about 1/3 of the way through the film, but the character development is wondrous to behold.

The production design is not quite as dark as the first two film; there is definitely more light in this movie. The city is a character in itself and the staging is quite nice. Granted, there are some inconsistencies and a few goofs, like with the frozen river and Wayne Manor, but these are inconsequential. The camera work is epic, soaring, and at times very intimate, helping the stakes of the film hit close to home. That said, some of the editing is a little off, with a few transitions seeming rough and one really strange timeline goof which took me out of the story. This would not have been hard to fix and I wish Nolan had done so.

The acting is top-notch, and in a movie that is so crowded with talent, it’s an unfortunate truth that some folks get little screen time. Freeman’s Lucius Fox is one example; we see very little of him. Christian Bale carries the film on his capable shoulders, giving us a very risky superhero in a damaged, lost man who is not sure what his place in the world is. Tom Hardy basically growls and speaks in a strange voice, as well as lumbers and beats the tar out of Batman; honestly, he’s hard to understand at times. There’s not a lot to Bane, which is unfortunate for him since he’s following in the villain footsteps of the Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Cotillard is a lovely presence and she does a find job with another somewhat underused character in Miranda Tate. Oldman is pitch-perfect as usual, giving us an aging, still tough and principled Commissioner Gordan. But Gordon-Levitt, Hathaway, and Caine steal this movie. Blake’s motivations are displayed in his body language and fire. Hathaway practically channels Julie Newmar combined with Michelle Pfeiffer, nailing the part of a deliberately cold, selfish thief who is not happy with who she is but who knows what she’s capable of and will do what it takes to get what she wants or needs. Then there’s Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth. He provides the soul, the conscience, the heart, and really the salvation, for Bruce Wayne. He’s just lovely.

With a few goofs, a far less interesting villain than its two predecessors, and a lot of ground to cover, The Dark Knight Rises rises to the challenge of tying up this excellent, ground-breaking trilogy. The emotional climaxes pack a serious punch.

On its own, The Dark Knight Rises takes the number two spot for this year’s rankings so far. As a conclusion to the trilogy, it would take the number one spot.

Content warnings: lots and lots of stylized violence and a few near-gruesome images, some explosions, some harsh language, minimal sensuality

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

Batman would share this review with his enemies, so you should do the same for your friends.

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