Friday, 16 July 2010

Inception - Dir. Christopher Nolan

Visually mesmerizing and narratively enthralling, Christopher Nolan’s stop-gap project before he commits to the third film in his Batman saga is a non-stop thrill ride which delivers on all levels; consciously and sub-consciously. Like everybody else in the real world, Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a full-time job except, unlike the rest of society, his job transcends realities. His work involves extracting confidential and sensitive information from client’s minds as they wander in an artificial dream-like state. To attempt this intricate process, they require an ‘architect’ who will construct the dream world in which the client’s subconscious is drawn into, before extracting the information from them. As Cobb mentions however, this process can essentially degenerate into ‘theft’ as clients may subconsciously place their secrets inside a bank or safe, which the team will have to crack to explore and exploit.

After a job goes askew, Cobb is hired by the shady businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) to perform an almost impossible, and incredibly complex act; Inception. Instead of extracting an idea or information, inception requires the planting of an idea into the subconscious mind of the client, thereby influencing any potential future decisions they may make, e.g. implanting into the mind of a client the suggestion that they should release an inferior product in the future to allow a rival competitor to prosper. Cobb assembles together a well-respected and able team of experts willing to commit to the act of inception, including the forger Eames (Tom Hardy), who has the ability to assume any identity in the dream world, the architect Adriadne (Ellen Page) who is young student constructing the world in which they will tread, the chemist Yusuf (Dileep Rao) who is providing the substances that will allow them to stay under in the dream world for an extended period of time, and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who is the team’s ‘point man’ and Cobb’s highly regarded second in command.

Despite its hundred and sixty million dollar budget which is most prominent in the film’s stunning visuals, the real endearing aspect of ‘Inception’ is the brilliant story which Nolan allows to slowly unravel throughout the two hours and twenty minutes of run time. Constantly keeping the tension at appropriate heights, while also allowing the story to develop showcasing various twists and tales, Nolan’s screenplay is the intricate competent which truly makes the film work on various inter-connecting levels. From mystery-thriller, to science fiction and a hefty dose of drama, as the story unfolds, the visuals dazzle, and the characters themselves continue to grow, develop and prosper in this artificial environment.

On the surface ‘Inception’ is a heist movie in really simple, generic terms, but under the surface it contains underlying themes of love, loss, grief and the inability to forget those we used to, and still do love. Despite constantly being surrounded by dangerous situations in both realities, Cobb’s real danger comes in the form of his memories and in particular those of his wife (Marion Cotillard). While the other members of his team seem to perform their actions for the thrill of the event and the payment on delivery, Cobb is instead restricted by outside factors which keep him constrained within his transcending prison of never-ending certainty, and this (in?)sanity is projected to the audience in a typically emotional and brilliant Leonardo DiCaprio performance. Aside from DiCaprio, the always radiant Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives yet another proficient acting performance he can be proud of. Yet, despite the array of talent on show including DiCaprio and Sir Michael Caine, no doubt for the next few months the name trickling out of the Casting Department’s on both sides of the Atlantic will be that of the gentlemanly Tom Hardy. From obscurity to the A-List in a matter of years, not bad for the London man who only got his leading role a mere eighteen months ago.

But the real question here is; Can Christopher Nolan do no wrong? With ‘Inception’ comes the directors seventh feature film, and with this his sixth film to open to startling critical acclaim, and as many will agree, rightly so. Nolan has created a fantastically imaginative world where nobody is even safe, even when their bodies shut down and decide to roam the depths of the human subconscious. His story draws you in, while the gravity-defying action and unstable personalities of the characters keep you deeply rooted in your seat for a well-spent two hours and twenty minutes of pure, leisurely cinematic enjoyment.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Karate Kid - Dir. Harald Zwart

In today’s Cinematic world of constant lifeless reimagining’s and underachieving sequels, it is refreshing to see for once, a well-made, proficient remake which still manages to restrain the positive values and engaging nature of the original. Harald Zwart’s ‘The Karate Kid’ brings the original film into the twenty-first century by using one the most recognised contemporary Asian actors of the last thirty years, and a rising star who is currently heavily overshadowed by his father, and allowing them both to flourish in a respectable and worthy remake. While the only substantial and somewhat controversial difference between the two films is the fact that despite being named ‘The Karate Kid’ in the majority of Western countries, the location of the film and the actual martial art displayed both descend from Chinese culture, unlike the martial art of Karate which is a descendent of Japanese culture. Yet, it must be noted that this ‘cultural controversy’ does not detract away from the true nature of the film.

Xiao (Little) Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) and his mother Sherry (Taraji Henson) decide to get away from things in Detroit and start a new life, with a new culture, in Beijing, China. Once they land in the Middle Kingdom, Dre attempts to settle in by making friends with the local children, and while there he notices the young violinist Mei Ying (Wenwen Han). But his hormones fluttering is not his only problem, as the local bully Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) notices his affection for Mei Ying and humiliates Dre by using his superior Kung Fu skills to hurt the young boy. After he undertakes various beatings, Dre is eventually helped by the mysterious maintenance man of his building in Mr Han (Jackie Chan), who demonstrates his superior Kung Fu skills to a mesmerized Dre. After this, the film’s plot almost mimics the original 1984 ‘Karate Kid’ film to the tee with both man and boy becoming ever closer in the three months Dre has to train before he battles the sadistic bully Cheng at an upcoming Kung Fu tournament.

While on the surface, the film concentrates upon the use of martial arts to contain, and defeat those who attempt to bully and hurt Dre, its underlying theme is of perseverance as both Dre and Han must fight through the past to create their own futures. Dre is young boy in a foreign land, unable to understand, or become truly part of society, while Han is tormented by the mistakes of his past, however through their father-son surrogate relationship; both are able to battle their inner demons head-on. And it is the actors performances which bring this motion picture truly too life. Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan take centre stage in this remake, and both deliver fantastic performances, especially Chan, who portrays the traumatised maintenance man who is scarred beneath the surface, perfectly. While despite a strong act from young Jaden, he is slightly hampered by the fact that his character is only twelve-years old, rendering the majority of the pre-puberty romantic scenes between himself and Mei Ying meaningless despite their emotive beauty.

Alongside the acting, the cinematography of the film at times borders on breathtaking as director Harald Zwart, Editor Joel Negron and Cinematographer Roger Pratt take their time to appreciate the splendour of the Chinese landscape and communicate this cultural veracity to the audience. The sequences filmed on the Wudang Mountain exemplify this beauty as the frame is constantly filled with sights and sounds, no doubt foreign to the Western audience watching, as the camera casually glides above to capture the scenery. This beauty is however lost in the last twenty minutes of the film as it moves forth into the tournament stage, the soft, classical music is exchanged for exuberant rock and roll and the editing mirrors that of a American music video; a noticeable blip, on an almost magnificently shot film.

What constantly drives the film forward, aside from its technical aspects, is the fact that the Sensei/Mentor (Father/Son) relationship between Dre and Mr Han works so perfectly. The scenes they share together will make you laugh, cry, smile, frown, and ultimately feel all warm and fuzzy inside, while the scenes of eye-opening martial arts provides an element of excitement to somewhat balance out the dramatic nature of the film. Whether you enjoyed the original ‘Karate Kid’ film or not, I would still recommend this film to audiences of all ages who appreciate more than heavy explosions and repetitive action sequences.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Predators - Dir. Nimrod Antal

Before you go to see ‘Predators,’ one thing you must remember is that in this reconstructed universe, the awful ‘Alien vs Predator’ films and the equally as bemusing ‘Predator 2’ (set in downtown Los Angeles of all places) does not exist. Producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal (‘Kontroll’, ‘Vacancy’) have decided to cut out the below-par spin-offs and sequel and give the original 1987 film a commendable follow-on, which fans of the original will no doubt enjoy. Yet, the irony comes in the form that despite Antal attempting to provide depth to the series, it only serves to detract from the films actual purpose – to show the visual representation of humans and alien beings taking part in explosive action sequences.

All of a sudden there was a light, as eight human beings land in the middle of a game preserve, disorientated, annoyed and becoming increasingly agitated, they soon find that their day’s going to get just that little bit more stressful as they realise that they’re the hunted, not the hunters. And those committed to the act of hunting the hunted, are an evolved race of aliens simply known as the Predators, whose primary abilities revolve around their advanced alien technology providing dangerously vicious weapons and heavily protective armour, essentially rendering them as almost perfect killing machines. But this isn’t nearly two hours of watching humans being stalked before their spinal cordz becomes part of a trophy exhibit, as those chosen to be part of this game are all hardened killers and criminals. The mysterious Royce, played by a brilliant Adrian Brody, is a US Special Forces soldier who takes centre stage as the no-nonsense taking, cliché-speaking loner who only has one goal; to get away from their current location. While IDF sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga) is the yin to Royce’s yang, as she constantly refuses to put her morals and ethics aside when it comes to the tough decisions, creating a stage of tension outside the confines of the confrontation with the alien beings. Alongside Royce is an Russian soldier (Oleg Taktarov), a Mexican enforcer (Danny Trejo), a US Death Row inmate (Walton Gobbins), a RUF officer (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a Yakuza member (Louis Changchien), and the seemingly odd-one-out in an American doctor called Edwin (Topher Grace).

While ‘Predators’ is beautifully shot by cinematographer Gyula Pados, and contains a well-written script filled to the rim with plenty of grin-silently-to-yourself-one-liners, it’s fatal flaw is reminiscent in the fact that Antal is torn between creating a film in the same sci-fi action-packed vein as the original ‘Predator’ film, and one that contains the visual flair and character development which is more apt to film that may act as the beginning to a trilogy or further motion pictures. Because of this, instead of concentrating upon the actual battle between the two sets of predators, the film is more concerned with developing a back-story and plot which just isn’t visible nor is it viable. The screen time of the actual alien beings pales in comparison to sequences of the eight hardened criminals trudging through overgrown shrubbery as they constantly try to gain their bearings, and this detracts away from the giddy, enjoyable nature of the original film. Aside from this however as mentioned, the performances are on-form, the is script short, but sharp and witty, and the shooting and subsequent editing create a competent and worthy sequel to the John McTiernan’s 1987 original ‘Predator’ film.