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Inception (2010)

Note: This film was the main topic of discussion on Episode 9 of my podcast, The Cinescope Podcast. Give it a listen for a more in-depth discussion!

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Christopher Nolan is one of the more visionary film directors working in the industry today as evidenced by the audacity and realism of his Dark Knight trilogy and the scope of Interstellar. Inception is no exception, and it proves to be perhaps his most personal film to date – he wrote and fine-tuned the script over a period of nearly a decade before having the chance to actually make it, and his hard work definitely paid off.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the world’s best dream extractor; he enters people’s dreams to steal secrets from their subconscious. He’s good at what he does, but he lives an unfulfilling life, separated from his children due to charges against him for a crime he didn’t commit. To clear the charges and see his kids again, Cobb makes a deal with Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), who promises to use his influence to clear Cobb’s name in exchange for inception – the placing of an idea into someone’s head via their dreams. Assembling a team to assist him, Cobb puts everything at risk in order to see his kids again, with failure meaning that he’ll be in prison for the rest of his life.

Nolan’s creativity is incredible here, with him taking things that are familiar to us, like a “kick” – the falling feeling you get while in bed that instantly wakes you up – being used in new ways, in this case as a means of waking up from a dream before the time runs out on their special dream-sharing machine. He also introduces the idea of “projections”, which are physical (within the dream itself) manifestations of our subconscious that can be spoken to in order to gain information or to learn more about the person creating the projections. I find the “mechanics” of Nolan’s dream world endlessly fascinating as I learn more about these as well as things like how Nolan envisions the effects of outside stimuli such as slaps or needing to use the restroom within the dream.

The story itself is in the style of a heist film, but the setting doesn’t allow it to be anything even remotely close to generic. For starters, Cobb and team aren’t stealing anything but are instead putting something there – an idea. There are elements of science fiction and blockbuster action, but at the same time the narrative carries a surprisingly emotion weight with it as we witness Cobb struggling with the loss of his wife and his guilt at having caused it, as well as the strained father/son relationship between Robert and Maurice Fischer (Cillian Murphy and Pete Postlethwaite, respectively). There are multiple scenes that can leave you in tears, but there are also moments of comedy (Tom Hardy’s Eames has a few notable one-liners) and incredible action sequences, with my favorite being Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fight in a rotating hallway.

Each member of the cast shines, so I won’t talk about them all, but I do feel the need to highlight a couple of them. Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb brings another all-star performance to the screen here, alternately treating us with scenes of anger, anguish, personal torment, guilt, and compassion. Marion Cotillard appears as his wife Mal, and we see her in various states of maliciousness and sadness. As the story between these two characters unfolds, we learn of the true tragedy that ended their marriage, made even more heartbreaking by the beautiful performances of both DiCaprio and Cotillard. Tom Hardy’s Eames shows off not only his comedic chops, but also his ability to be both intellectual and ready for action…watching his performance in this movie, you could make a pretty convincing argument for Hardy as the next (or eventual) James Bond. And the last character I’ll talk about here is Ellen Page as Ariadne, the young architect who joins to team in order to design the dream levels that the group will be diving in to. She acts as the sort of communication liaison for the audience; as someone new to the group, she’s a vehicle for exposition allowing characters to tell her (and therefore the audience) about the dream sharing process as well as a way for us to get a glimpse into Cobb’s difficulty with restraining his dangerous projection of Mal that jeopardizes their mission. Page is calm and intelligent and is therefore a comforting presence amidst all of the chaos they face on their mission. Additional shoutouts to great performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur (and his amazing rotating hallway/anti-gravity action scenes) and Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer.

I also won’t talk about Hans Zimmer’s wonderful score here, mostly because I’ve already written a review on it. However, I will say that this score marked a turning point in my opinion of Zimmer’s work. For most of the first decade of the millenium, I thought that he copied himself too often, but his music here innovated and showed him at his experimental best, and the majority of his work since then has been taken in a similar direction. Nolan/Zimmer is as inspired a pairing as Spielberg/Williams or Zemeckis/Silvestri because the two of them understand each other and have similar visions of scope and artistic expression.

This review was surprisingly difficult to write because there’s so much good to be said that I couldn’t narrow down very well. The bottom line is this: Inception is Christopher Nolan at his absolute best. The story and dream world are incredibly engaging and fun, and the performances from each of the actors as well as from Hans Zimmer are top notch throughout. I have nothing but praise for what has become one of my all-time favorite movies.

-Chad

RECOMMEND!

MPAA: PG-13 – for sequences of violence and action throughout

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Top Ten Films of 2012

2012 was a good year for movies. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see everything – films like Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, Argo, Les Misérables, Django Unchained, etc. are all films released in 2012 that I haven’t seen yet – but I DID manage to see quite a few. Here is my personal list of the best films of 2012 (click on the titles to view my full review):

 

10. Wreck-It Ralph

This was another film that I had been looking forward to for months on end. I’m not as into video games as some other people, but watching this film was still like revisiting my childhood. The heart of this movie is in the right place, with the main message being “accept who you are because you’re a wonderful person just as you are.” A talented voice cast, a sweet story, candy puns out the wazoo, and a fun score by Henry Jackman make this film everything I wanted it to be…and the animated short shown before the film, Paperman, was just as fantastic.

 

9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I was late to the whole “Lord of the Rings/J. R. R. Tolkien” party, having only seen Peter Jackson’s film trilogy in the past two years, but I was keen to read The Hobbit and see the movie as soon as I possibly could. While I was disappointed on my first viewing, mainly due to the cartoony special effects that resulted from the higher frame rate (48fps HFR), this film was a faithful adaptation to Tolkien’s original novel, and the return of familiar faces such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Andy Serkis as Gollum is refreshing. The real highlight of the film, though, aside from Howard Shore’s beautiful score, is Martin Freeman, who plays the perfect Bilbo Baggins. While some may find the run time to feel a little stretched, I found it to be justified by the attention to detail to the original novel.

 

8. The Hunger Games

I read Suzanne Collins’ acclaimed Hunger Games trilogy just a few weeks before I saw the film, and I was hooked from the get-go. The film did a wonderful job of adapting the novel, perfectly capturing the dystopian society introduced in Collins’ literary world. Jennifer Lawrence did a particularly outstanding job as Katniss, and the scenes added by the filmmakers to show the control that the Capitol has over the people of Panem and over the Hunger Games do nothing but add to the story in a great way.

 

7. Flight

Robert Zemeckis, director of Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, released his first live action film in more than a decade this year. Flight was something I had anticipated for months, and it quite lived up to what I had in mind for it. Denzel Washington gives a powerful performance as a pilot struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, and the film explores topics such as love, recovery, lies, and responsibility. Zemeckis proves that he still has what it takes to direct a top-notch film that focuses on character and story just as much as it does on visual effects.

 

6. Life of Pi

This is a film that I sort of went to see just on a whim, and I’m glad I did. With gorgeous visuals that looked fantastic in 3D (something I don’t say often), Life of Pi excels the most in its storytelling. While the ambiguity of the ending may not appeal to some people, I found the film to be a thoughtful exploration of faith and of religion in general, leading me to look at my own relationship with God. It sort of melds the biblical Book of Job with Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 film Cast Away, and it definitely sparked my interest in reading the book it was based on.

 

5. Skyfall

In anticipation of this film, I first watched Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, which was entertaining in its more muted kind of way, and Quantum of Solace, which was pretty disappointing. I still had high hopes for Skyfall, though, and it exceeded every expectation I had set for it. The action was fun, Javier Bardem as the villain sent chills up my spine (and also brought a couple of laughs), and Daniel Craig and Judi Dench both gave outstanding performances in their respective roles. The length wasn’t an issue to me because I was too caught up in the entertainment of the film to care.

 

4. Lincoln

Does Spielberg make bad films? I’d answer that with a “no” (I have an argument in favor of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). With 2011’s War Horse and his newest film, Lincoln, he has taken a step back from the typical sci-fi/action/fantasy films he is known for and has focused more on period dramas – both of which were fantastic. If Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln doesn’t win the Academy Award for Best Actor, I won’t know what to think. Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver standout performances in a film that is just as engrossing and fascinating in its exploration of politics as a good action film is in its exploration of shooting and blowing things up. Spielberg is a true master.

 

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan set the bar high with 2008’s The Dark Knight, and this conclusion to the acclaimed trilogy did not disappoint. Tom Hardy as Bane was sinister and terrifying, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both welcome new presences, and the return of the familiar faces – i.e. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman – was satisfying and well-done. The Dark Knight Rises perfectly concluded Nolan’s trilogy.

 

2. The Avengers

There are so many ways that this film could have gone wrong. I mean, think about it – they took four characters from four separate films and brought them together into one super-film. In the hands of a less-capable director, it could have easily been one of the worst movies of the year, but with Joss Whedon at the helm, it ended up being one of the best. Smart dialogue with exciting action and a great story, The Avengers proved that an ensemble cast like this could work just as well in a film as it does on television.

 

1. Looper

Well-choreographed action sequences meet a smart script in this film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. As a time travel movie, it explores the consequences of our actions and the true cause of evil, and it spends just as much time in contemplation as it does making you sit on the edge of your seat.

 

Well, there you have it. My top ten films of 2012. What were your favorites of 2012?


The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Here’s a brief spoiler-free review of the final film of the Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

Taken as a whole, this film was fantastic on nearly every level, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t have any faults. I had problems with understanding certain characters, from Bane (especially) to Miranda Tate to Jim Gordon to Bruce himself. A couple of the plot points in the first half confused me a bit, but the second half was so incredible that it made these and any other minor faults seem like nothing. Initially, I didn’t agree with some bits of the ending, and, because of that, I decided that it was slightly behind The Dark Knight in terms of quality, but I’ve been mulling things over since the movie ended – it’s starting to grow on me, so the final film of the trilogy may end up being my favorite. Old faces and new faces alike do an awesome job onscreen, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake and Tom Hardy as Bane standing out as particularly great. Overall, it’s an outstanding film; if you enjoyed the first two, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you enjoy this one as well.

Now, onto the review FILLED with spoilers, so, if you haven’t seen the film yet, DON’T READ ON. (skip to end for spoiler-free conclusion)

There are two key bits of speculation that have been circulating the Internet for quite some time now that proved to be correct: 1) Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul and 2) Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the man who will take over for Batman. Good job, Internet people! Also, Batman did technically “die”, so there’s a third speculation come true.

Bane proved to be one of my favorite film villains of all time. Sure, I had trouble understanding him at times, but Hardy’s presence onscreen was bone-chilling and terrifying. I’m not going to sit here and waste time comparing him to Ledger’s Joker, but both had a quality about them that made it difficult to look away – no matter how badly you wanted to at times. The most fascinating part about this character is that he is the first villain who could physically best Batman…and he does in an awful way. Though we couldn’t see most of his face, Hardy did a fantastic job with communicating through his body language exactly who Bane was and what he was capable of. I wish that there had been more of a defeat of Bane by Batman, but I suppose that the defeat we witnessed was the only one that mattered because the title of “head villain” was passed on to Miranda Ta- oh, excuse me – Talia al Ghul.

Hathaway as Catwoman was very good as well; in fact, I managed to watch the film thinking, “hey look! It’s Catwoman!” instead of thinking, “hey look! It’s Anne Hathaway!”, which is a plus for someone like her who hasn’t done a film like this before. She looked the part and did a fine job with the character.

I was very impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his character; he came out of nowhere, but he certainly exhibited the detective abilities and physical skill needed to be a future Batman…more on that later. The leadership he showed in gathering the forces in Gotham to fight and bringing Batman back to the city was outstanding, and I really felt myself rooting for the character…and not just because he was on Batman’s side.

Since I’ve read both of Michael Caine’s autobiographies now, watching him onscreen in The Dark Knight Rises was a particular treat, especially because we got to see him display a wide range of acting ability in this film than we did in the previous two films. When he cried at the end of the film, I nearly cried; Caine is a wonderful actor with a career spanning decades, and seeing him deliver such a powerful performance in this film at his age (he’s 79 years old) was a great thing to witness.

Of course, I can’t neglect to mention Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman. Not much to say here, but they both did a fantastic job with their roles, especially Oldman.

Christian Bale’s as Batman was admirable in the sense that we see him truly fight for the first time – not physically, necessarily, but for his life, something that we hadn’t seen from Batman before this film. He’s a man who has been through quite a lot both physically and emotionally, and he has suffered in just about every way that a man can suffer. Bale does a great job with truly showing Batman’s humanity in this film…for the first time, the person who wants him dead knows his true identity, so there is no way for him to hide or use theatricality to his advantage. It’s man vs. man, and there’s no darkness to hide in anymore. Bale displays Bruce’s resolve to give the city all that he has and makes not only Batman a hero, but Bruce Wayne a hero as well.

Aside from a slightly confusing first half (which, thanks to Wikipedia’s Plot section of the film’s article, isn’t all that confusing anymore) and the occasional problems with the voices, my only issues regarded the ending. I knew that I didn’t want Bruce to die, so that’s nice, but I wanted him to return to Gotham and have an emotional reunion with Alfred. At least, that’s what I wanted at first. Walking away, however, and taking some time to think about it, I was actually pretty satisfied with how they ended it. Batman is no longer a villain in Gotham but a hero instead, and Bruce Wayne has reached that point in his life when he no longer needs Batman…he is finally at peace, living out his life the way Alfred wanted him to. That being said, I still wish that we had seen more than just an acknowledgement between the two.

I also don’t know how I feel about the whole “(Robin) John Blake is the new Batman” part of the ending; if it was just meant as a teaser that will be left alone, cool. I like it. BUT I really don’t want to start a new franchise with Gordon-Levitt as the focus – Chris Nolan has made it pretty clear that he won’t be doing any more Batman after this film, and I don’t want a sequel trilogy or whatever to be made and it pale in comparison to what Nolan has done with Bale in these three movies. Who knows…maybe it could be good, but I don’t really want to take that chance. Of course, the decision isn’t up to me, so we’ll just have to see where Warner Bros. takes it from here…if anywhere.

***SPOILERS OVER***

I’m having trouble with deciding which film I like more: The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises. On one hand, I don’t want to like this film more just because it’s the last film of the series. On the other hand, I don’t want to like The Dark Knight more just because of Heath Ledger’s Joker; I’m trying to find a balance between the two so that I can make a decision excluding those factors. Though The Dark Knight Rises didn’t end the way I wanted it to when I walked into the theater, I walked out of the theater thinking that maybe, just maybe, Nolan’s ending was better than the one that I had fantasized for the film on my own. So, for now at least, I’m going to call this a tie, but it’s entirely possible – and highly likely – that the finale of the trilogy will come out on top.

As fans of Batman, we all have Christopher Nolan to thank for bringing this incredible character to the big screen in such a big way and for dedicating himself fully to finishing what he started. Batman Begins was groundbreaking, The Dark Knight was breathtaking, and now, with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has brought a third, final film that ends the trilogy in a hugely satisfying way.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence, intense sequences of action, language and some sensuality

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer, here!