Inception Review

This review was originally posted as part of Table 9 Mutant‘s IMDb Top 250 project then updated and reposted for the Ultimate 2010s Blogathon, hosted by Tranquil Dreams and me.

Inception movie posterSynopsis
Dream extractors Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and their team are hired by Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) to perform inception, or plant an idea in someone’s mind, on Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), son of Saito’s dying competitor.

Review
Christopher Nolan is a writer and director who is known for films that are bold, that go big, and that are completely original. One of his boldest and biggest films came between the latter two films in his influential The Dark Knight trilogy. Inception has all of Nolan’s trademark elements and, most importantly, the cast to make it work. And it works. It works in a spectacular and unforgettable fashion.

Sometimes movies try to explain their world before getting into the story, often using an overbearing amount of exposition. But Inception doesn’t do that. Rather than use the beginning to set up the technology or concept to enter one’s subconscious, it is used to introduce the notion of dreams within dreams, which becomes an important aspect of the story later on, and also simply give an idea of what it the technology does. The movie accepts that entering dream space is already an established technology so it can start with a bang. However, later in the film we do get the exposition needed to explain such a high concept technology. This information is given to us through Ariadne (Ellen Page), who acts as the bridge between the movie and the audience. But again, it is done in a way that is neither pandering nor dull, somehow making exposition exciting and entertaining.

Although there is a large ensemble, almost everyone gets their fair share of screen time. Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are the main focus but they handle the attention well and give amazing performances. They play off each other humorously and you can feel that their characters are close friends. I haven’t seen many of Cillian Murphy’s films but I’m impressed with his performance here, playing well opposite, and later along side, DiCaprio. Ellen Page is the newcomer to the team and acts a great surrogate for the audience. She offers an innocence and a bit of naivete to the group. However, I would have to say my favorite performances is Tom Hardy as Eames. He brings a charisma that fits his character perfectly.

Cobb has become one of my favorite characters in cinema. He is very complex and it’s easy to forget that he is a thief. He is an antihero but is one because of the circumstances and wants nothing more than to return to his family. Most antiheroes say they have good intentions and only become so out of necessity but secretly enjoy being a thief/killer/whatever kind of antihero they are. Cobb, on the other hand, is truly not a bad person and is only leveraging his skills in a way he believes will allow him to return to his family the quickest, even though it is not a way he would prefer.

I have mentioned many times in other reviews how important the score can be to a movie. Like most other aspects of Inception, the sound work and music beautifully complements what is happening on screen. The movie can get loud to accentuate the action going on but it also gets very quite, making these moments more intimate. Hans Zimmer is my second favorite composer (behind the wonderful John Williams) and for a good example of why he is amazing just look at this movie. His score is memorable and gives a certain gravitas to the events unfolding on screen.

There are some amazing visuals, too. Working inside a dream allows the action to be limited only by the imagination. One of the coolest is an early scene when Ariadne is learning about molding dreams. She is walking around Paris and makes the city fold on itself, among bending the streets and architecture in other ways. There is also a fight scene in zero gravity in a hotel hallway. And these are just a few! On top of that, many of the effects are done practically rather than with computer animation. Even though this film takes place in the dreamscape, it adds a bit of realism in a world that is anything but real. The effects department truly outdid themselves.

I thought Inception was GREAT πŸ˜€ Like most of Christopher Nolan’s films, it features a grand and unique concept. Even though the concept is big, it is never dumbed-down or spoon-fed to the audience. The film assumes that they can figure things out for themselves and moves on accordingly, offering marvelous and extraordinary action pieces and character moments. Each character is complex yet relatable and all the actors and actresses play well off each other. Nolan has proven time and again his place as one of the biggest and best storytellers in Hollywood today, and Inception just might be his crown jewel. So far.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Christopher Nolan – Director / Writer
Hans Zimmer – Composer

Leonardo DiCaprio – Cobb
Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Arthur
Ellen Page – Ariadne
Tom Hardy – Eames
Ken Watanabe – Saito
Dileep Rao – Yusuf
Cillian Murphy – Robert Fischer
Marion Cotillard – Mal
Tom Berenger – Browning
Pete Postlethwaite – Maurice Fischer
Michael Caine – Miles
Lukas Haas – Nash

Ultimate 2010s Blogathon Kick-Off: Eighth Grade (2018) Review

Hello, friends!

Welcome to part 2 of the fifth Ultimate Decades Blogathon! Since it is the start of the new decade, this year the blogathon is looking back at the one that just wrapped up: the 2010s. My co-host Kim from Tranquil Dreams shared her kick-off post and her review of The Wandering Earth and discusses the impact streaming services like Netflix have had on international and indie films.Β  Head over there an check that out if you haven’t already. Now it is time for my kick-off post and review of the coming-of-age film Eighth Grade.


Eighth Grade movie poster

Synopsis
Kayla (Elsie Fisher) prepares for her final week of eighth grade.

Review
Before getting into my review, I wanted to highlight some ways that Eighth Grade is an incredible snapshot of the 2010 decade:

  1. Instagram and Snapchat. Maybe these app will still be very popular in the coming decade, but as of early 2020, seeing the characters in this film use Instagram so much is such a 2010s thing. Same with Snapchat, a popular messaging app. Instagram was released in 2010 and Snapchat in 2011, so having them be such a prominent part of the movie instantly places the movie in the 2010 decade.
  2. Every kid has a smart phone. I remember when I received my first cell phone. In high school. Back when all they did was make calls and play the game Snake. In this film, every kid has a cell phone. And not just any cell phone, a smart phone .
  3. BuzzFeed quizzes. How many BuzzFeed quizzes have you seen and/or taken about what kind of pizza topping are you or what character from a specific movie or TV show? The site didn’t begin offering these quizzes until the early- to mid-2010s.
  4. Language and behavior. Every decade has their own slang and behavior quirks. For instance, during a sex education video, the speaker used the phrase β€œit’s gonna be lit,” which was even out of date by the time this was released in 2018. At one point the principal dabbed, a move made popular by professional football player Cam Newton in 2015. Several teens can be seen doing the floss, a dance move popular among children and teens, which has been seen as early as 2010 but gained popularity in 2017 thanks to β€œthe backpack kid” performing the move on Saturday Night Live.
  5. Strong message about self-image. Numerous coming-of-age films over the decades have dealt with being yourself and being confident in who you are. However, I feel it wasn’t until the 2010s that this genre really dealt with self-love and being positive with your self-image, especially with young women. It’s great to see such an important topic getting the attention it deserves and Eighth Grade is the best of them.

Now bear in mind, some of these items might continue to be popular in the 2020s. So if you’re reading this in the future and are thinking to yourself, β€œthose things are still around,” the reasons I listed above are through the lens of looking at this film in February of 2020, pretty much immediately after the closing of the 2010s. If I’ve learned anything from doing these decade retrospectives for the Ultimate Decades Blogathons, it’s that no two decades are alike and each have their own defining traits.

Every generation has their coming-of-age films. This generation is lucky enough to have Eighth Grade, which honestly probably has the rest of ours beat. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of great coming-of-age films over the years but none have felt as authentic or genuine as Eight Grade. The young Elsie Fisher is the heart and soul of this movie. Under director Bo Burnham’s hand, Fisher gives a performance unexpected from someone of her age. She is awkward, she is funny, and her performance is both unflinchingly pure and awe-inspiring hopeful. I can’t compliment her enough for her acting in this film.

Outside of Fisher, the rest of the cast is there to be either a foil or support for Kayla, Fisher’s character. Every interaction Kayla has with the other characters are there to grow her in some way. Mark, Kayla’s father played by Josh Hamilton, acts as Kayla’s biggest supporter, even if she might not appreciate it at the time. Together, Hamilton and Fisher have one of the most emotionally charged scenes towards the end of the film. Kayla has two antagonists, for a lack of a better term, in Kennedy and Steph, played by Catherine Oliviere and Nora Mullins respectively. They are there to challenge her self-confidence and her image. Later on in the movie, Kayla befriends several high schoolers who become an example of the type of person she could be in just a few years. It is during one scene with one of these high schoolers that was one of the most gut-wrenching and impactful of the entire film for me. Again, it only proved what a capable actress Fisher is. Lastly, there are a couple of Kayla’s crushes thrown in for good measure. By the end of the film Kayla has grown tremendously, even for a film that takes place within the span of a week.

Score can play a big part in creating the emotion. In Eighth Grade, the score behaves rather uniquely. When it’s just Kayla or Kayla is moving or doing something, there is music accompanying it. However, whenever she begins conversing with someone, the score stops. This is a powerful technique because it puts the audience’s full attention on the characters. It is up to the characters alone to carry the movie. With a lesser lead, this could have failed dramatically. Instead, the fantastic performances from Fisher and the rest of the cast are only highlighted, especially during the more intimate moments.

I thought Eighth Grade was GREAT πŸ˜€ Bo Burnham’s script and direction is one of the purest explorations of being a teenager I have ever seen in cinema. Elsie Fisher carries the film with her sincere portrayal of Kayla. My only minor gripe is that a couple of the early storylines are dropped part way through as more come up. However, since this this story takes place within a couple of days and not everything in life gets closure quickly, it’s a small annoyance I can overlook. Coming-of-age movies can feel like a dime a dozen but one like Eighth Grade only comes about once a generation and is not worth missing.

Trivia
Filming began one week after actress Elsie Fisher graduated eighth grade (via IMDb).

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bo Burnham – Director / Writer
Anna Meredith – Composer

Elsie Fisher – Kayla Day
Josh Hamilton – Mark Day
Emily Robinson – Olivia
Jake Ryan – Gabe
Daniel Zolghardri – Riley
Fred Hechinger – Trevor
Imani Lewis – Aniyah
Luke Prael – Aiden
Catherine Oliviere – Kennedy
Nora Mullins – Steph
Missy Yagger – Mrs. Graves


Stop by our blogs daily to see who shows up next and what they consider to be the ultimate 2010s film. Use the tag #Ultimate2010s to share your comments or entries for the blogathon on twitter. If you miss any of the entries, Kim is keeping an aggregated list on her site, which you can check out here.

Uncut Gems Review

Uncut Gems movie poterSynopsis
New York City jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is always looking for the next big score and always pushing his luck to find it. When he comes across a β€œsure thing,” it puts him at odds with friends and enemies alike.

Review
It has been a long time since I have seen a new Adam Sandler movie. I’m talking like 2011’s Jack and Jill and 2008’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan before that. I’ve even missed Pixels, which my aunt has assured me I would enjoy given the amount of video games I play. But Uncut Gems piqued my interest because it looked like a different kind of Sandler movie. Even by my own admission I haven’t seen many of his movies outside of his early popular hits to compare to, but his role in Uncut Gems is unlike I have ever seen from him and might just be his best performance.

Sandler is absolutely brilliant as Howard Ratner, a shifty jeweler in New York City. Sandler is mostly known as a comedic actor but his role as Howard shows that he can branch out to other types of roles if he puts his mind to it. Howard is not a good person and is involved in shady dealings. Sandler bring a schizophrenic element to the part and makes it seem natural. The further I got into the film, the less and less I believed the person on screen was Sandler and not some doppelganger. Compared to other roles in his filmography, he is unrecognizable. After watching him in this film, I would like to see Sandler take on more dramatic roles such as this.

As I said before, Howard is not a good person, you might even call him a downright awful person. Usually a main character of a film has some sort of redeeming quality so the audience can connect and root for them. Not Howard. This disconnect from the audience actually works towards another purpose. Since he is such a terrible individual, I continuously expected something terrible to happen to him. This is where I found the suspense of the film to come from. I was constantly wondering when something will go wrong for Howard. Once this thought took hold, I was glued to the screen, always expecting the worse to happen in every scene.

The cinematography was expertly used to elevate the tension as well. Tight angles and small, crowded spaces were often used to create a sense of claustrophobia, making the audience more uneasy being up close and personal with such despicable people. Kudos to the Safdie brothers and cinematographer Darius Khondji for creating an uncomfortable feeling using just the camera.

If I had one complaint about the film it would be that it is a bit too long. At 2 hours and 15 minutes, it does drag on a points. If one or two subplots would have been cut to shave the run time down by 20 or 30 minutes, I think this film would have found that sweet spot.

I thought Uncut Gems was GREAT πŸ˜€ Adam Sandler completely transforms himself in what is probably his most dramatic role to date. I found myself on edge expecting the worst to happen. While it was just a smidge too long, Uncut Gems is unrelenting and extremely raw, dragging you into Howard’s seedy world and never letting go.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Benny Safdie – Director / Writer
Josh Safdie – Director / Writer
Ronald Bronstein – Writer
Daniel Lopatin – Composer

Adan Sandler – Howard Ratner
Julia Fox – Julia
Idina Menzel – Dinah Ratner
Lakeith Stanfield – Demany
Kevin Garnett – Himself
Eric Bogosian – Arno
Keith Williams Richards – Phil
Mike Francesa – Gary
Judd Hirsch – Gooey
Noa Fisher – Marcel Ratner
Jonathan Aranbayev – Eddie Ratner
Jacob Idielski – Beni Ratner


On Monday, the Ultimate 2010s Blogathon was announced! If you would like to participate, all the details can be found in this announcement post.

Knives Out Review

Knives Out movie posterSynopsis
Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) investigates the death of mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).

Review
I have a weird relationship with Rian Johnson. I’ve only seen two of his films: Looper, which I enjoyed a lot, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which I have very mixed feelings about. The trailers for Knives Out definitely did their job of piquing my interest. So despite my feelings for his last movie, I thought I would check it out his latest endeavor. Johnson has one crazy imagination! Knives Out is filled to the brim with twists and excitement.

This film is a classic whodunit, something you would expect to play out like a game of Clue. Normally, the reveal about the murder is the final twist at the end. This movie separates itself from other murder mysteries by revealing the events of the murder in question at the end of the first act, which was much earlier than I expected. However, even after these events are revealed, it still kept my attention. The rest of the movie becomes a cat-and-mouse chase which maintains the intrigue and left me on the edge of my seat, constantly saying β€œoh, no,” but in a good way, under my breath on many occasions. Because the film explained the murder early on and shifts from a classic mystery to more of a thriller, the final twist felt like a let down. It was a wheels-within-wheels type reveal that wasn’t quite as hard-hitting as Johnson probably wanted it to be.

Despite this small gripe with the story, this movie is well written. As I said, even after the tonal shift partway through the film, it was still exciting. By the end of the film, all of the breadcrumbs that were laid out are cleaned up. Also, many lines that sound like throwaway comments have meaning later on, so pay attention closely or you might just miss something. Of course, this captivating script is only made better by such a fantastic cast. Everyone is clearly having a good time. Ana de Armas is arguably not as big of an actress as much of the rest of the cast but she holds her own when sharing the screen with the likes of Daniel Craig, Chris Evens, Jamie Lee Curtis or any of the rest. She is surely an actress to be watching out for.

I thought Knives Out was GREAT πŸ˜€ I wasn’t sure what to expect from Rian Johnson, a director with whom I have a love-hate relationship, but I think it’s safe to say at this point in time, I like more of his films than I dislike. Your classic whodunit script gets a twist and you won’t want to take your eyes off of the screen. The well-written script and excellent cast make Knives Out a thrilling ride from start to finish.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rian Johnson – Director / Writer
Nathan Johnson – Composer

Daniel Craig – Benoit Blanc
Ana de Armas – Marta Cabrera
Chris Evans – Ransom Drysdale
Jamie Lee Curtis – Linda Dysdale
Michael Shannon – Walt Thrombey
Don Johnson – Richard Drysdale
Toni Collette – Joni Thrombey
Katherine Langford – Meg Thrombey
Jaeden Martell – Jacob Thrombey
Riki Lindhome – Donna Thrombey
Christopher Plummer – Harlan Thrombey
K Callan – Greatnana Wanetta
LaKeith Stanfield – Lieutenant Elliott
Noah Segan – Trooper Wagner
Edi Patterson – Fran

Ready or Not Review

Ready or Not movie posterSynopsis
Grace (Samara Weaving) just married Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the love of her life. In the Le Domas family, it is tradition to to play a game whenever someone new joins the family. For Grace, The game takes a sinister turn when she must hide for her life.

Review
When I saw the trailer for Ready or Not, I was hooked. Lately I have been trying to watch more horror-y movies ever since I was a guest on an episode of Damien’s podcast and this film looked to be right up my alley. The trailer was humorous but still seeped in horror elements. Leaving the theater, Ready or Not was everything I could have hoped for and more.

I think what I enjoyed most in this movie was how darkly hilarious it was. It actually reminded me a lot of Game Night. Where Game Night is a dark comedy with thriller elements, Ready or Not is a thriller/horror with dark comedy elements. Also like Game Night, Ready or Not never takes itself too seriously. It is also very absurd at times and it revels in that absurdity, making it all the better. If Ready or Not had tried to be a serious film despite its ludicrous and somewhat supernatural concept, I don’t think it would not have been nearly as entertaining.

Even though I was constantly laughing, this film kept me on the edge of my seat. It is mostly a thriller but it also employs many techniques used by traditional horror movies to build anticipation and make you hold your breath. This is actually more of a horror/thriller but with more of the latter with some of the former sprinkled in. Because of this mix of humor, horror, and thriller, Ready or Not never feels like it drags on, keeping at a brisk pace and never letting go. Even with this movie’s pace, it feels like it’s just the right length at around 100 minutes or so. Some things could have been explained a little better with a few extra minutes but that’s pretty trivial and doesn’t detract too much from the film.

With such a focused cast, it fell on Samara Weaving to carry much of this movie. Luckily, she is more than up for the task! Weaving is fantastic. She has some of the funniest lines and moments in the film and pulls them off with ease. Weaving has a few action moments as well that she handles like a pro. Her performance is filled with both energy and vulnerability. Basically, she’s the perfect fit. I’m unfamiliar with most of her work but she is definitely on my radar now as an actress to look out for.

The entire story takes place in or around the Le Domas family mansion. As such, it needed to be as much of a character as the actors. The set designers managed to do just that. Everything is absolutely gorgeous and brimming with personality. Despite only spending 100 minutes in the Le Domas residence, it feels like there is a tangible history to the mansion. Truly an excellent set design.

I thought Ready or Not was GREAT πŸ˜€ Circumventing many horror tropes and expectations, this darkly twisted comedy will keep you on the edge of your seat with thrills while at the same time will have you rolling with laughter.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin – Director
Tyler Gillett – Director
Guy Busick – Writor
Ryan Murphy – Writer
Brian Tyler – Composer

Samara Weaving – Grace
Mark O’Brien – Alex Le Domas
Adam Brody – Daniel Le Domas
Henry Czerny – Tony Le Domas
Andie MacDowell – Becky Le Domas
Elyse Levesque – Charity Le Domas
Nicky Guadagni – Aunt Helene
Kristian Bruun – Fitch Bradley
Melanie Scrofano – Emilie
John Ralston – Stevens
Liam MacDonald – Georgie
Ethan Tavares – Gabe
Hanneke Talbot – Clara
Celine Tsai – Tina
Daniela Barbosa – Dora
Chase Chruchill – Young Alex
Etienne Kellici – Young Daniel

X2: X-Men United Review

X2: X-Men UnitedSynopsis
When William Stryker (Brian Cox), the man responsible for giving Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) his adamantium skeleton, arrives at the mansion to steal Cerebro, the X-Men must find out why he wants Cerebro and stop him.

Review
Like Spider-Man, my first exposure to the X-Men was the animated cartoon series of the 90s. It featured many classic X-Men characters, including Wolverine. Even though he was part of a team, Wolverine still received episodes focused on him. His mysterious past and complex personality is ripe for storytelling possibilities. X2: X-Men United takes a similar approach. While this is an ensemble movie, much of the story’s focus is on Wolverine and his past. When your movie has someone like Hugh Jackman who completely embodies your franchise’s most popular character, why not take advantage of it?

In X-Men, Jackman did well as Wolverine. However, we only get a peek of what he could do in the role. This time, he fully gets into the character, truly feeling like he is Wolverine. After leaving Xavier’s mansion at the end of the last film searching for answers about his past, he returns at the start of this film and it feels like he just went to the grocery store. He slides back in with the rest of the characters, and even acts as a guardian for the younger mutants, with ease. Whether it is the ferocity of Wolverine’s aggressiveness or the protective nature he displays, Jackman completely and effortlessly pulls it off.

The main cast from the last entry returns: James Marsden, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Rebecca Romijn. Shawn Ashmore also returns and receives a much larger role this time around, even becoming the emotional pulse for the non-Wolverine parts of the story. Between Ashmore, Paquin, and new addition Aaron Stanford, X2 provides a great look at the next generation of mutants in the ideological struggle between Professor Xavier’s X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants. Each of these three younger stars each do wonderful bringing across their characters’ outlook to life.

However, of the new cast members, hands-down the best addition is Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler. Cumming’s Nightcrawler brings a balance to the team. His strong religious beliefs and outsider’s perspective adds another ideological wrinkle to the story. Cumming himself fits in with the rest of the cast, providing a good blend of awkward humor and emotion.

While X2 is very much a Wolverine-centered film, it doesn’t shove the other characters to the side; they still receive plenty of their own development. The love triangle between Cyclops, Jean, and Wolverine comes to a head. Jean is certainly coming into her own character and we see glances of her hidden potential and Storm is moving into more of a leadership role on the team. One of the best side-stories of the film is actually when it focuses on the three younger X-Men: Rogue (Paquin), Iceman (Ashmore), and Pyro (Stanford). Their story offers a narrative for being different when everyone expects you to be β€œnormal,” a very relatable experience for many.

But of course, the focal point of the story is Wolverine’s past in the Weapon Plus program and how he came to have adamantium bonded to his skeleton. The story, loosely based on the graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, which is actually not centered around Wolverine, introduces us to William Stryker, the man responsible for giving Wolverine his adamantium skeleton. We’ve seen two sides of Wolverine: a violent, animalistic side and a softer, caring side. Outside of his interactions with Rogue, we didn’t see him with the younger X-Men in the previous film. In this film, even though he is violent and has a violent past, as we see through Stryker, Wolverine is willing to be a protector and mentor to the younger generation of mutants. Not only was his backstory expanded upon in this movie but so was his character, experiencing the most growth of any of the adult X-Men.

Nightcrawler is one of my favorite X-Men characters. The opening scene showed exactly how powerful he can be if he didn’t have his morals. What’s more, after the opening, which does a great job of starting off strong and capturing your attention, this film never feels dull. Throughout the entirety of the film, I always felt engaged. Even during the quieter moments, there was something worth paying attention to or something interesting worth concentrating on. Many superhero films stumble when they aren’t focused on the action but this superhero film does not land in that pitfall.

I thought X2: X-Men United was GREAT πŸ˜€ Much like Spider-Man 2, with the characters’ origins out of the way, this sequel is free to jump right into the story without needing much exposition. Almost every character experiences some sort of growth and the film remains exhilarating the whole way through. Back in the early days of the superhero genre boom, before it really blew up, the second entries were apparently the entries of note.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bryan Singer – Director / Story
David Hayter – Story / Screenplay
Zak Penn – Story
Michael Dougherty – Screenplay
Dan Harris – Screenplay
John Ottman – Composer

Hugh Jackman – Logan / Wolverine
Patrick Stewart – Professor Charles Xavier
Famke Janssen – Jean Grey
James Marsden – Scott Summers / Cyclops
Halle Berry – Ororo Munroe / Storm
Anna Paquin – Rogue
Shawn Ashmore – Bobby Drake / Iceman
Alan Cumming – Curt Wagner / Nightcrawler
Aaron Stanford – John Allerdyce / Pyro
Ian McKellen – Eric Lensherr / Magneto
Rebecca Romijn – Mystique
Brian Cox – William Stryker
Kelly Hu – Yuriko Oyama / Lady Deathstrike
Cotter Smith – President McKenna
Bruce Davison – Senator Kelly