21 July 2010

Inception Review

The key to success in media-based entertainment is detail. Small details, big details, seemingly irrellevant details - these aren't just a good idea, they're essential in making something more than a mere superficial spectacle (hello, every summer movie ever made!). It's in these details that you'll find Inception's true success - a thriller so intricate, so vast in scale yet fine in detail that you can't help but wonder if Christopher Nolan really is the closest thing this modern age has to its very own Alfred Hitchcock.

Of course, this is a huge - nay, massive - burden to lay across the shoulders of what is essentially a massive, action-packed summer movie, but don't be fooled by the big budget dressings. Like The Dark Knight before it, this is arthouse disguised as popcorn entertainment, gleefully twirling its false moustache as it demands more thought from its audience than any other movie you're likely to see this year. And whilst we should indeed wait for Mr Nolan to make a few more movies before we start comparing him to anyone, Hitchcock or otherwise - Inception is still monumentally impressive, regardless of whether you look at it as a spectacular action blockbuster or a cerebral thriller.

Telling the story of Dom Cobb, a man who specialises in invading and plundering peoples' subconcious through the use of tailor-made sedatives that put the user into a state of hyper-lucid dreaming. Thanks to this rather unique talent, he's presently on the run, doing his best to evade the authorities and do business at the same time. But when a wealthy businessman asks of him the impossible - to plant an idea that the subject thinks is their own: to perform inception - the game changes, and he and his team are catapulted into a dream world which seems to be haunted by the ghosts of Cobb's past.

Suffice to say, the plot thickens from there, and each successive layering adds new possibilities, as well as new implausibilities. To reveal more is to spoil the fun, but bear in mind that this is not a film that you can view with your brain switched to auto-pilot. Turn off for a second, and you're a shoe in for a second viewing. But we shall say no more than it demonstrates that Nolan's talents aren't merely in the language of cinema, but in the structuring of a story too.

Those talents are in full display here. Gravity defying action is the order of the day, and there are moments of genuine exhilaration - watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt cascade about a rotating corridor without your jaw on the floor at your own peril.

There's food for thought too - shades of The Matrix, Dark City and even Nolan's own Memento abound, with musings on the nature of dreams, on immortality and even on the afterlife providing a mental chew-toy for viewers to have at in the hours after viewing.

The cast are exceptional - Leo DiCaprio has arguably never been better in the lead role, with implacable support from Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy. Ellen Page is tasked with the audience surrogate - though her role becomes more fleshed out as the story progresses and she admirably rises to the occasion. Cillian Murphy sets aside his more sinister roles for a put-upon son whose mind is being invaded - doing a fantastic job of blurring the lines of morality.

If there is a flaw, it's that Nolan successfully has us rooting for the bad guys all along. No matter how human we make them, no matter how sympathetic - the act of inception is truly an unpleasant concept here made real, and these gentlemen go about their business in particularly nefarious ways. But this is but an intellectual quibble - one to be debated and discussed, instead of held against the movie itself.

What stands is that this is a truly staggering piece of work. The scale of the imagination, and the detail of the realisation, mean repeat viewings will do nothing if not strengthen its value. One for the ages then - and it brings Nolan one step closer to Hitchcockian glory.

23 March 2010

Kick Ass Review

Kick Ass ends with a rather poignant sense of inevitability. Inevitably, within the following few minutes, you will commence your journey home. Inevitably, there'll be at least one person who's staying to the very end of the credits. If you had a drink, you'll inevitably need to use the bathroom. And last, but certainly not least, it was always inevitable that Kick Ass...well, it kicked ass, didn't it?

Taking place in the here and now, a nobody teenager named Dave Lizewski ponders why nobody ever tries to be a superhero in real life. 'Because they'd get their asses kicked' is the universal response, and when he acquires a green scuba suit and attempts to confront some muggers, Dave finds this out first hand. After experience the business end of two sets of fists, a knife and a speeding car, he's left with metal screws and plates holding his skeleton together and deadened nerve endings. With these newfound 'powers', he resolves to fight crime. Only there are two other 'superheroes' out there - Big Daddy and his daughter-come-sidekick Hit Girl - who mean real business, and when their handiwork is mistaken by a mob boss for that of Kick Ass, all hell breaks loose.

What we have here is a relatable superhero movie. It takes place in our world, references our superheroes, wonders why no-one has emulated them, and then rather viscerally explains why. But despite an overall tone that is hardly encouraging, it somehow manages to be rather uplifting, thanks to a story arc that is strangely plausible, if, obviously, a little over the top. Rarely does it clunk, and when it does, it's with a sly wink.

Performance wise, there really is very little to fault, with the core trio - Aaron Johnson as Lizewski, Nic Cage as Big Daddy and Chloe Mortez as Hit Girl - likely being the ones that will stick in your mind. Johnson makes the geeky-but-likeable Lizewski convincing enough, though he seems rather confined by the fact that the character's only real development is to get two shades of shit knocked out of him. Cage and Mortez are the true gems, though, their double act reminiscent - rather thinly in some instances - of Batman and Robin, albeit with a marginally less strict attitude towards bloodshed, and a hefty dollop of crazy just to round the whole thing off. What's important is that through the wise-cracking and swearing, there's a genuine sense of affection between the two, which adds that all-important emotional hook when the finale descends upon you.

Other flourishes abound - the cel-shaded 3D graphics that depict Big Daddy's origin story give the impression of being in the very pages of a comic book, and a battle viewed from Hit Girl's first person perspective is as close to a knowing nod to Call of Duty addicts as you're likely to get. The wealth of pop culture references will please movie-heads as well, with the movie gleefully ripping into the comic book mythology that it sprang from with gory abandon.

If there are a few hiccups, they are only noticeable due to the overwhelming quality of the rest of the product. Chloe Moretz is, as mentioned, fantastic for the most part, but there are a few moments where her performance seems a little forced. That these align with when she is required to swear is of some comfort, at least. It's also far more grounded in reality that you might otherwise expect - there's no bloodless victories here, and boy, do our heroes bleed for it - which leads to some slightly bizarre shifts of tone that frequently threaten to capsize the movie.

Thankfully, though, the performances, dark humour streak and madcap action keep it level and steady. The story? Well, that propels it way up into the air...with Gatling guns attached. So shut up. And see Kick Ass.