"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." -Inception

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Revisiting Inception, on the 10th anniversary of its release

The 10th anniversary of Inception (2010) fell earlier this week on July 16. The movie had a huge impact in my life, after its release, I had so many thoughts that it pushed me to launch this very blog a few months later. At the time, I was working as a compositor in an animation studio. While I loved working in animation, but after some time, I had begun to feel like another cog in a machine. I hoped the blog would be an outlet for my passion for movies, and one thing lead to another that two years after working on the blog, I finally began working on a television show revolving around films. 

Five years after the blog was launched, I was writing about films full-time, a position I'm still grateful for. I love writing about cinema, and while the world right now is uncertain, in the midst of a global pandemic, cinema is still what we turn to for comfort. Therefore, I decided to dust of the old blog after more than year to check, does Inception still hold up, after a decade? The answer: Abso-bloody-lutely!

The film, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, is audacious and bold in every aspect of filmmaking. Nolan, coming off a highly successful sequel with the The Dark Knight (2008), presented us with an original high-concept story, with an international cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio. 

Opening with the swell of Hans Zimmer's majestic score, and the roar of the seas, Inception drops in the action right away, establishing its inner world with confidence. "What's more resilient than a parasite, or a virus?" asks Dom Cobb. It's an idea! 

Inception is built upon this premise, where thieves infiltrate the world of dreams to steal ideas and secret thoughts, sold to competitors. However, DiCaprio's tortured thief Cobb ends up taking the largest gamble of his life when he takes up an offer from the billionaire Mr Saito (Ken Watanabe), hoping to return to his young children. 

Cobb lives in exile, moving from country to country, as he extracts secrets from dreams. However, one last heist should be enough for him. The mark is young Robert Fisher (Cillian Murphy), heir to a large empire and rival to Saito. The billionaire wants Fishcher, who inherits the business after his father's death, to break it up, and therefore be less of a threat to him.

Cobb and his crew are tasked with infiltrating his mind and planting the seed to do so. A whole enterprise is dangerous and can fall apart at any stage. The intricately layered screenplay makes it so that they very nearly fail, only to emerge victorious at the end, or did they? The beauty of the film is that seed of doubt is planted neatly within it, making us question it, even now. 

What does that ending mean? Cutting away from Cobb's spinning totem, did we leave him in a dream or a reality? We'll never know. There has been no sequel thankfully and it should remain that way. Sometimes we don't need all the answers to the questions we have. 

But back to the film's story, as Nolan lines up his dominoes as Cobb and his team go deep within the subconscious to dream within a dream, for a few layers in. Everything is tied together so precariously, but wonderfully, logic comes into play at every leave. To the ordinary mind, it may seem outrageous, it makes sense all the same.

Cobb, who wallows in his memories, is a tricky character to get behind. Wrapped in his own guilt and grief, he's not very reliable, but we still want to him to get his happy ending. His late wife Mal (Marion Cottillard) swoops in like a mischief-maker to destroy his schemes, or is it his guilt coming in  through waves of his subconscious? Mal, who questions his very reality, becomes the 

To get through to Fisher, Cobb, Saito, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Ariadne (Ellen Page), Yusuf (Dileep Rao) and Eames (Tom Hardy) navigate through layers of dream worlds - from a rainy nondescript city, a modern hotel, to a highly-guarded fortress on a snowy mountain before emerging on the other side. The trigger for them to return to the real world is Edith Piaf's song 'Non, je ne regret rien", a statement if there was any. 

Nolan is an old-fashioned filmmaker who likes to shoot with film and loves the big spectacle meant for the big screen. Watching it at home is still thrilling but it does not compare to the experience of watching in the theaters. I loved it so much that monsoon season, that I saw three times in the theatre! The first time was always the best - experiencing it with the early morning crowd as they sipped their coffee in silence, allowing the story to unfold on the screen. And remember being dumbfounded on my seat later, wondering about that spinning totem!

Zimmer's gorgeous score is as much as part of the storytelling. He weaves in these emotional cues to remind us of the stakes and consequences of wading and lingering in dreams too long. Inception released in a crowded year along with A King's Speech, Black Swan, Toy Story 3, and The Social Network. It hauled four technical awards for Wally Pfister's solid cinematography, best sound editing, best sound mixing and best visual effects, (which still holds up today IMHO). 

It's a shame that Nolan's screenplay was denied an Oscar. When people lament over and over the lack of original stories in Hollywood, Nolan continues to deliver. After Inception, he went back to the comic book genre for The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and followed it up with another original Interstellar (2014) and the war film Dunkirk (2017). His latest Tenet (2020), which again reminds us of Inception, is currently in limbo in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. When, not if, it does release in theatres, we all be waiting to watch it, but only when it is safe.

Meanwhile, revisit some old classics while you can, as these films still have the power to thrill and excite you.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

First Look Pictures: Greta Gerwig's Little Women

(All Photos: Sony Pictures Entertainment)
For the follow-up to her award-winning directorial debut, Lady Bird (2017), actress-turned-filmmaker Greta Gerwig is adapting Louisa May Alcott's classic novels into a feature. The star cast is already swoon-worthy. Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet from Lady Bird return, and are joined by Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Emma Watson, and Florence Pugh.

The tale of four March sisters living in America after the Civil War has been retold, time and time again. Gerwig's young cast brings all the attention. Emma Watson plays the oldest sister Meg, Ronan is the tomboyish writer Jo, Eliza Scanlen is the sweet Beth, while Florence Pugh plays the youngest sister Amy.

Chalamet plays their friend (and wealthy neighbour) Laurie who falls for Jo. Streep is their great-aunt March, while Laura Dern is their mother, fondly called Marmee.

Have a look at the rest of the photos below:

Laura Dern

Chalamet and Pugh

Gerwig directing Streep who plays Aunt March

Ronan and Chalamet
Little Women releases in theatres on Christmas Day, December 25, 2019. 

Movie Review: Toy Story 4

The old gang of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Mr and Mrs Potato Head and more are back for another installment and a whole adventure, one that has lasting repercussions on them all. This time, they reunite with a familiar face, Bo Peep, who departed the gang (unwillingly) nine years ago when the lamp she was part of, was given away to someone else.

Directed by Josh Cooley, this fourth installment is still fresh, and deeply emotional. The first film in the series, Toy Story (1995) was a game-changer in animation in so many ways. It laid the way for technological and superior innovations with computer generated animation and powerful storytelling to be melded together.

Each story of this saga has been well-received and even though we thought the chapter of this rag-tag toy gang had ended already, there was still more story to tell - Woody's. From the beginning of this series, Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) has always been the man. New toy, Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen), may have the gadgets and heroics, but the heart of the story has been about Woody and his undying loyalty.

At the beginning of Toy Story 4, Woody has shifted his devotion to a new kid, Bonnie, after his original kid, Andy, grew up and went off to college. As we left them in Toy Story 3, the gang was settling in with Bonnie's toys into one big happy family, or so we thought.

Turns out Bonnie, who is about to start kindergarten soon, has lost interest in Woody. She plays with the rest of the toys, but poor old Woody has been relegated to the cupboard. But the loyal Woody isn't giving up on Bonnie, he accompanies her to orientation day at kindergarten where the shy little girl has a hard time fitting in and making friends.

Woody lends a literal hand and guides her to some arts and crafts supplies. Bonnie ends up making a new friend - Forky - out of the mishmash. The confused utensil (now a toy) comes to life and has a hard time adjusting to the fact that Bonnie is so attached to him.

When Bonnie's family sets off a short vacation in the RV before school starts, it's up to Woody to see that Forky (voice of Tony Hale) does not escape to the trash and Bonnie doesn't lose her only friend. But it only takes a moment and he escapes, leading Woody to helm a solo mission to bring him back.

On his return, he chances upon an old antiques stores, where he finds the old lamp of Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts) and is drawn to find his old friend again. Woody gets stuck in the creepy world of the antiques store, who is ruled by a dominating doll named Gabby Gabby. She wants something from Woody and holds Forky hostage to get it.

Meanwhile, Woody eventually does reunite with Bo Peep, the once feminine and docile character has turned into an adventurer of her own. With her three sheep, and a new friend named Giggle McDimples, she tries to help Woody save Forky and return back to Bonnie.

Try is the operative word here, as it wouldn't be a Toy Story film without everything and the kitchen sink thrown at the toys as they frantically try to restore order to their world. Along the way, the Toy Story universe introduces some new and memorable characters from Ducky and Bunny (voices of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) to Duke Kaboom (voice of Keanu Reeves).

The true heart of Pixar films are the emotions that they bring out of unthinkable situations and subjects. Here, they've done it yet again. An aging, quite possible redundant, toy learns a lesson in moving on, and living for himself. Woody has become a beloved, iconic character for many and in movie and pop culture, so to imagine him adrift, leaves us adrift as well.

But the makers take Woody through the ringer and give him his happy ending, after all. It's a wonderful, emotional thing to see. I don't know how many of the young kids in the theater I watched it in got that, but I imagine they'll see the film with a different perspective once they are adults themselves.

If you want to spend time with some familiar faces yet again (and feel guilty about how you treated your own childhood toys), Toy Story 4 is the film to see. This might be the last time we'll see what the old gang is up to.

Directed by Josh Cooley; Story by Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley and Valerie LaPointe; Screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom; Edited by Axel Geddes, Music by Randy Newman

Running Time: 100 minutes


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

25 years after dinosaurs roamed Isla Nublar, we bid adieu to the infamous island in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The second in the Jurassic World trilogy, this film brings back the leads of the previous film, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) back to the island for one last adventure.

An imminent volcanic eruption on the island threatens all life on the island but nefarious forces (ie wealthy rich men) make sure that the dinosaurs don't die. Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), an old associate of John Hammond who created Jurassic Park, and his advisor Eli Mills (Rafe Spalls) rope back Claire and Owen to save a few of the dinosaur species, including Blue the raptor.

Directed by Spanish director J. A. Bayona, the film examines the dinosaurs' place in this new world. Man brought them back and now must deal with the consequences of that decision. There have been other choices - with cloning and the creation of new breeds of dinosaurs. What are the ethics behind all these god-like decisions?

But there isn't much time to discuss this all on the island. Owen, Claire and a team of mercenaries try to find as many dinosaurs as they can and take them to a sanctuary. But are these mercenaries to be trusted? Of course not!

With volcano on the island due to erupt at any moment, the action moves away back to California, on Lockwood's grand estate where he lives with his isolated granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon). The smart little girl finds out what the two-timing Mills is up to - setting up an auction of the dinos on the black market.

Luckily, help is on the way. Claire and Owen have made it off the island and snuck aboard the vessel with the dinosaurs making its way to Lockwood's estate. Once there, they are caught and locked up, not before they realize their responsibility in bringing back the dinosaurs and creating them into the sharp, clever entities they are today.

They somehow find Maisie who aids them around the estate and they all try to derail the ongoing auction. They manage that spectacularly. The sequence that follows when the dinosaur species manage to escape and turn on the humans is frantic, gory and thrilling to watch.

The cat and mouse chase then develops between Owen, Claire, Maisie and a particularly persistent, Indoraptor (a cross species between the Indominus rex and a raptor). The stakes are high here and you'll definitely be on the edge of your sets.

Fallen Kingdom is the second film of this second Jurassic series and the addition of director Bayona is a great choice. He brings his editor  and D.O.P. from The Impossible (2012) and The Orphanage (2007) respectively to the project and adds his own touch - connecting the series, 25 years apart.

Executive producer Steven Spielberg, who directed Jurassic Park (1993), set the template and others are carrying it forward. Bringing back the dinosaurs was an audacious move, 25 years ago, and it still remains an audacious move. Jeff Goldblum's Dr Malcolm is back in this installment to warn us again of the consequences. Like always, we never learn from history's past mistakes, do we?

Howard and Pratt are solid as usual. They have some close encounters with the cold-blooded reptiles. But it's the wide-eyed wonder and fear of Sermon's Maisie that will remain with you after the film. Maisie and that lone brachiosaurus waiting and wailing at the edge of the docks of Isla Nublar as the destruction and debris of the volcano is about to envelop her.

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is a great addition to the summer blockbuster season. Catch it if you can! My own quibble was there wasn't enough Jeff Goldblum.

Directed by J. A. Bayona; Written by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow; Cinematography by Oscar Fuara; Editing by Bernat Vilaplana; Music by Michael Giacchino

Running Time: 128 minutes


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Movie Review - Kong: Skull Island

At one point in Kong: Skull Island, Brie Larson's character Mason, right before a critical mission, says, 'This is a bad idea'. The second film in Warner Bros.' MonsterVerse series sounds like a good idea on paper but something's gotten lost with its execution. The largest ape in movie history, Kong, is back but is his heart in it? I doubt it. This Kong is fatigued but yet he will soldier on to save those who need him.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong: Skull Island wastes no time in getting the action started and assembling the team that will take on Kong. John Goodman plays Bill Randa at whose insistence this treacherous adventure is undertaken, Samuel L. Jackson as Colonel Packard is the military escort for this mission, anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, an experienced tracker, are quickly introduced one by one.

They head into uncharted waters to an undiscovered island for a so-called geological survey. Within minutes of arriving at the South Pacific island, they bomb the pristine, lush green surroundings disturbing the peace and ecosystems. It's no surprise then that Kong comes out pissed as hell. I wouldn't blame him.

With Kong angry as an enraged mama bear, their numbers begin to dwindle and they are scattered across, the team later regroup and decide to get off the island. But not Colonel Packard, he has taken Kong's attack personally and decides to make it his mission to make Kong pay. Skull Island is a mysterious locale, with giant insects and animals (if you can call some of them that). The island is protected by Kong, who is regarded by the elusive tribe who lives on the island there as their god. 

We discover all this later as John C Reilly's Hank Marlow enters the story. He's the comic relief and a welcome one at that. His plane was shot down in 1944 on the island and he's been stuck there for nearly three decades. The world has moved on from the second world war to the Vietnam war, which has only just ended.

But showing that the humans have learnt nothing from decades of fighting, the interfering group of inconsiderate humans drop in and decide to play god, upending the decades old balance of the island. I suppose there is an indirect anti-war message in there somewhere but it's hard to see in between the violence and unnamed deaths of the peripheral characters.

Back in 2004, Peter Jackson paid homage to the monster movies of the 1930s with his own King Kong bringing startling emotion to the character through mo-cap genius Andy Serkis. Enough time had passed to warrant a film made on the legendary character. Jackson's King Kong remains in recent memory for many cinegoers, including me.

Here, Kong seems weary and going through the motions. The script does the movie no favours and besides Goodman, Jackson and the delightful John C Reilly, recent Oscar winner Brie Larson and the dishy Tom Hiddleston are completely wasted here.

The only saving grace of Kong: Skull Island are the stunning island scenes and the larger-than-life action scene. Watch at your own peril!

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts; Story by John Gatins; Screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly; Director of Photography by Larry Fong; Edited by Richard Pearson; Music by Henry Jackman.

Running Time: 118 minutes


Thursday, February 2, 2017

First look: Sandra Bullock gets her crew together for Ocean's 8

The spinoff to Ocean's 11 named Ocean's 8 has a release date, an awesome all-female cast and a brand new image out this week. Directed by Gary Ross (The Hunger Games), this new film will follow in the grand tradition of the previous films with 'the heist of the century' set in New York City.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean who assembles the perfect crew to pull off said heist at the annual Met Gala. The crew consists of Cate Blanchett (as Lou), Anne Hathaway (as Daphne Kluger), Rihanna (as Nine Ball), Helena Bonham Carter (as Rose), Sarah Paulson (as Tammy), Mindy Kaling (as Amita) and Awkwafina (as Constance). The squad is seen in the first ever look from the film riding the NYC subway to the Gala, maybe?

A summer release by Warner Bros., Ocean's 8 hits theaters on June 8, 2018. The gals seem ready, are you?

Vanity Fair's 2017 Hollywood cover

Photo: Annie Liebovitz/Vanity Fair
The annual Vanity Fair cover featuring the powerful, talented 'wonder women' of Hollywood was released last week and it is GORGEOUS! With recent Oscar nominees Emma Stone (La La Land), Natalie Portman (Jackie) and Ruth Negga (Loving), the cover showcases the current generation of actresses working in the business now. Some of them like sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning have grown up right in front of our eyes. Others like Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o, five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams and Janelle Monae have given formidable performances in Queen of Katwe, Arrival and Hidden Figures respectively last year. Also part of the group are Aja Naomi King (The Birth of a Nation), Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women).

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