Horror Film Review: A Quiet Place Part II (dir by John Krasinski)

If you had told me, ten years ago, that John Krasinski was destined to go from starring in The Office to being an action star, I would have thought you were crazy.

“John Krasinsi’s going to grow a beard and base his acting career around playing soldiers and CIA analysts?  No way!  He will always be Jim Halpert,” I would have said, “He smirks at the camera and has an adorable relationship with Pam!”

Of course, I was wrong.  After The Office ended, John Krasinki went on to play Jack Ryan for Prime and to star in movies like 13 Hours.  And yet, as unexpected as that development may have been, what was even more unexpected was that Krasinski would also direct one of the best horror films of the past five years, 2018’s A Quiet Place.  Telling the story of a family trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world in which the Earth has been invaded by aliens who hunt by sound, A Quiet Place was intense, atmospheric, frightening, and actually rather touching.  Though the plot itself may have been a bit familiar (because, seriously, how many movies have there been recently about insect-like aliens destroying civilization?) but Krasinski showed true skill as a director, getting heart-breaking performances out of a cast that included himself and his wife, Emily Blunt.

A Quiet Place was such a success that it was was inevitable that it would be followed by a sequel.  Though its original release was delayed by the pandemic, A Quiet Place Part II was finally released in May of this year and it became one of the first successful films of 2021.  John Krasinki even taped a special greeting for those who saw the film when it was first released, welcoming them back to the theaters.  That really is the most John Krasinski thing imaginable.

As for A Quiet Place Part II, it’s actually two films in one.  The first part of the film serves as a prequel, showing us the initial attack and following Lee (John Krasinski) and his family as they flee for safety while the aliens decimate their hometown.  It’s an exciting sequence, even if one gets the feeling that it was largely included so that Krasinski could make an appearance despite his character having been killed off during the first film.  After the flashback, A Quiet Place Part II picks up where the first film ended.  Lee is dead and his widow, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), does everything she can to protect her surviving children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and her newborn baby.  Though Regan has figured out that the aliens are themselves vulnerable to sound (specifically, a high-pitched tone), that doesn’t make the aliens themselves any less dangerous.  After eventually meeting up with Emmett (Cillian Murphy), an embittered friend from the old days, Evelyn and her family search for other survivors.

A Quiet Place Part II is a simple but efficient thriller, one that recaptures all of the first film’s strengths without making the mistake of adding any new weaknesses.  Much like the first film, it’s dominated by suspenseful scenes of survivors trying to make their way through the wilderness without so much as stepping on a twig.  As anyone who has ever tried to sneak into their house after being out later than they were supposed to can tell you, walking without making a sound is not as easy as it seems.  One of the film’s most harrowing scenes features a character getting his foot caught in a bear trap and his family struggling to free him while also trying to keep him from screaming out in pain.  

Wisely, the film resists the temptation to tell us too much about the aliens.  All we really know about them is that they hunt by sound and they kill anything they pounce on.  And really, that’s all we need to know.  At a time when far too many film franchises end up drowning in their own overly complicated mythology, the Quiet Place films keep it simple.  The aliens hunt and they kill and they’re frightening specifically because there is no way to understand their motivations.  They’re pure chaos, a reminder that our lives are not ruled by rhyme and reason.  The aliens, like all existential threats, don’t care that the Earth is inhabited by families or people who have tried to create a safe life for themselves.  They exist only to destroy.

It can be argued that A Quiet Place Part II tells essentially the same story as A Quiet Place, with Cillian Murphy’s Emmett replacing Lee.  That’s a legitimate point but then again, it could also be argued that a part of the film’s strength is that it doesn’t attempt to complicate things.  The aliens are going to remain just as frightening the second time Evelyn and her family flees from them as the first time.  Clocking in at a brisk 97 minutes, there’s not a wasted moment or a trace of filler to be found in A Quiet Place Part II.  Featuring an excellent turn from the awesome Emily Blunt and good performances from Simmonds and Murphy, A Quiet Place Part II is a sequel that’s worthy of the film that came before it.


Film Review: Free Fire (dir by Ben Wheatley)

Last night, I saw Free Fire, the latest film from the visionary British directing-and-screenwriting team of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump.

Free Fire takes place in Boston in the 1970s.  We know it’s the 70s because of all the wide lapels, the flared jeans, and the impressive facial hair.  In short, everyone looks like an extra from Thank God, It’s Friday.  Note that I said Thank God, It’s Friday and not Saturday Night Fever.  None of the characters in Free Fire could pull off John Travolta’s white suit.  As much as they try to pretend otherwise, everyone in this film is low rent.  No one is as clever or street smart as they believe themselves to be.  Even more importantly, no one is as good a shot as they think.

The film takes place in a decrepit warehouse, the type of place that is strewn with rats and hypodermic needles.  Chris (Cillian Murphy), Frank (Michael Smiley), Steve-O (Sam Riley), and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) are members of the Irish Republican Army and they’ve come to the U.S. to purchases weapons.  Chris and Frank are no-nonsense professionals.  Bernie is a well-meaning moron.  Steve-O is a drug addict who, the previous night, got beaten up after he smashed a bottle across the face of a 17 year-old girl.

Working as intermediaries are Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer).  Justine specializes in keeping jumpy people calm.  She and Chris flirt as they wait for the guns to arrive.  As for Ord — well, let’s just say that Ord was my favorite character in the film.  He’s always calm.  He looks really good in a suit.  And, whenever things get intense, he’s always quick to light up a joint and make a sarcastic comment.  This is probably the best performance of Armie Hammer’s career so far.  (Or, at the very least, it’s the best performance of his that I’ve seen.  I hear that he gives an excellent performance in the upcoming Call Me By Your Name.)  Certainly, this is the first film that I’ve seen, since The Social Network, in which Hammer seemed to be truly worthy of the hype that has surrounded his career.

Finally, there’s the gun dealers themselves.  There’s Martin (Babou Ceesay), who seems to be fairly low-key professional.  There’s Gordon (Noah Taylor), who is a henchman who looks disconcertingly similar to Chris.  And then there’s Vernon, who is from South Africa and who is constantly talking and smiling.  Not surprisingly, Vernon is played by Sharlto Copley.  Finally, Harry (Jack Reynor) is a driver who desperately wants to impress Ord.  Harry loves John Denver and he also loves his cousin.  In fact, he loves his cousin so much that, when he recognizes Steve-O as the junkie who smashed a bottle across her face, Harry pulls a gun and starts firing.

The rest of the film deals with the resulting gun fight, which is complicated with two mysterious snipers (Patrick Bergin and Mark Monero) suddenly open fire on both of the groups.  Who hired them and why?  That’s a mystery that could be solved if everyone stops shooting and yelling at each other.  Of course, that’s not going to happen because 1) no one is a good enough shot to actually get the upper hand and 2) almost everyone in the warehouse is an idiot.

At it’s best, Free Fire mercilessly parodies the excessive violence of modern crime cinema.  When it comes to crime films, most people just remember the shoot outs so Free Fire takes things to their logical extreme by just being a 90-minute gun fight.  At its weakest, Free Fire occasionally becomes exactly what it’s parodying.  The film’s structure — one night in one location — proves to be limiting.  At times, you find yourself really wishing for a flashback or at least a little exposition to explain who everyone is outside of that warehouse.  The cast is full of good actors and they all give good performances but the characters are, at best, thinly drawn.  At times, it was difficult to keep track who was who.  I especially found myself mixing up Michel Smiley and Sharlto Copely.  It was all the facial hair.

About 30 minutes into Free Fire, I was already composing a bad review in my head but, by the final shot (and yes, the double meaning is totally intentional), Free Fire had won me over.  It’s an experiment that doesn’t really work but it’s so relentless and dedicated to seeing its story to its conclusion that I couldn’t help but appreciate the film’s efforts.  When the guns finally did stop firing and the end credits started, I was shocked to discover that, without even realizing it, I actually had gotten just a little caught up in the film’s story.

Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump previously gave us one of the most memorable films of the decade (so far), A Field in England.  Free Fire might not quite work but I’ll always make the time to see the latest from Wheatley and Jump.


Here’s The Red Band Trailer For Free Fire!

Hi, everyone!

When Jeff and I went to see Logan on Thursday night, one of the many trailers that played before the film was this red band one for Free Fire.  Free Fire is an action comedy, one that I think is meant to satirize the ultra violent heist films of the 90s and early aughts.  Seriously, there are parts of this trailer that should make Guy Ritchie cringe.

That said, this trailer is also about a minute too long.  At first, everyone in the theater thought it was kind of funny but then, around the two minute mark, the yawns started to kick in.  “Are they just going to shoot at each other for the entire trailer?” someone asked.

The answer is yes.  And you know what?  The trailer probably doesn’t do Free Fire justice because this movie was directed by Ben Wheatley and I’m still having dreams inspired by his oddly hypnotic A Field in England.  I’ll follow him anywhere!

Free Fire has a March 31st release date in the UK and an April 21st release date in the States.

Anyway, here’s the red band trailer for Free Fire!

Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” – Full Trailer

The full trailer for Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, was recently released.

Focusing on the events surrounding the battle of Dunkirk, the movie looks to be pretty epic from at least a cinematography standpoint. Hoyt Van Hoytema (Spectre, Interstellar, Her) is back for this, which could be fantastic for the 70mm and IMAX Presentations.

Dunkirk – Starring Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branaugh, is due to open in theatres next July.

28 Days Later


Gentle Readers, there are A LOT of bad horror films out there and I mean Halloween Resurrection bad, but when you get a truly great one, it sticks with you for your life.  This movie is more unique in that the writer Alex Garland really peaked with this film and there are IMDB credits to prove it.  Danny Boyle directed the piece and you really feel as though you were inhabiting the after-times of a dead world….well, undead.  Danny Boyle did Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 hours, but I know what you’re thinking- Did he write anything besides family films for Disney?  Yes, he made this awesome zombie film.

We see shots of terrible violence and realize that monkeys are being forced to watch it. Then, Animal Rights Activists enter heavily armed with guns and sanctimony.  The researcher begs them not to release the animals because they are infected with a terribly contagious disease and that the goal of their research is to find a cure for rage.  The Animal Rights Activists patiently listen to the scientist instead of acting purely from smug instinct, dooming us all.  Just kidding, they release one of the monkeys, it rips the animal rights activist apart, barf bleeds all over her, making her patient zero, and I try really hard not to root for the diseased monkey.  The disease is out!  Of course, many of us always knew that animal rights activists would lead to the zombie apocalypse.  Just read their twitter feeds and you’ll know that they’ll doom us all.  Fade to Black and 28 Days Later… appears as a subtitle in the bottom right….BRILLIANT!!!

Jim wakes from a coma to a dead world.  Sound familiar? Yes, TWD went beyond homage there.  He leaves the hospital to amazing details that really sell a dead London.  Empty hospital, empty streets, garbage, worthless cash everywhere, a bus is overturned in front of parliament, and an amazing score reveals a World without people.  If you’re looking for the song that plays when he’s walking around dead London during the opening –  it’s by Godspeed You! Black Emperor – East Hastings – Long Version.

HOW DID THEY MAKE LONDON EMPTY?  MERLIN!  This is England, after all.   Nah, Danny Boyle got MANY government officials to agree to let the production shutdown huge traffic arteries for 90 seconds at a time.  London is one my most favorite cities and I would love to live there and it is Europe’s New York City, therefore, imagine shutting down Times Square for filming.  

Jim gets chased by fast-moving zombies and meets Selena and a Red Shirt.  He goes with them and realizes very quickly that he was probably better off in a coma.  Jim insists on seeing his parents.  They agree to take him and he finds them suicided on the bed clutching a note that reads- “With endless love, we left you sleeping. Now, we’re sleeping with you.  Don’t wake up.” This is not your dad’s zombie movie.  They decide to stay at his house for the night, but are attacked by zombies.  Red Shirt gets infected and is dispatched by Selena.  Jim and Selena must flee.

Jim and Selena venture forth and find Frank and his daughter Hannah.  It hasn’t rained for some time, therefore -no water.  For survival, they have to leave the city.  Selena doesn’t want to go with Frank and his daughter because she sees them as anchors, but Jim insists and Hannah explains that we actually need each other. Frank plays a radio signal that beckons them to safety and they leave as one tribe.  Along the way, there are some intense scenes and some shopping.  They arrive at the salvation location, but Frank gets infected and is killed by soldiers.

Right away, you can tell that the soldiers are goofing off too much.  I have commanded soldiers and there’s some level of goofing off, but this had an air of creepiness and broken discipline.    The soldier’s have taken over a residence as their HQ and have put up defenses to keep zombies out and people in.  We quickly learn that the radio message was a trap. Corporal Mitchell harasses Selena and a fight erupts.  The Major breaks it up, but it’s clear that Jim, Hannah, and Selena are prisoners.  The Major explains that the soldiers could not face a dead world and one attempted suicide.  The Major had a plan- lure women to the compound with a radio signal.  When they arrived, they would keep them prisoner to breed with his soldiers to restart civilization. He puts it simply: women equal hope.  His logic and delivery is truly chilling in its cold mathematics.

They decide to execute Jim and a SGT who gets in their way and keep Hannah and Selena for reproduction.  Corporal Mitchell and another Soldier take Jim and the SGT out for execution to a killing field.  Corporal Mitchell wants to bayonet Jim, the other Soldier can’t handle that kind of intimate murder, leading to a melee.  The SGT is killed and Jim escapes.

The next sequence is truly amazing because we see our hero morph from the sensitive man that he is naturally to a state of feral revenge indistinguishable from the fast-moving zombies.  He’s shirtless to further emphasize his lack of civility as he makes short work of many of the soldiers to rescue Hannah and Selena. Corporal Mitchell who wanted to bayonet him and rape Selena becomes the focal point of Jim’s rage- Jim puts his thumbs deep into Corporal Mitchell’s eyes until he’s dead.  This is a critical act of monstrosity because it shows not tells in the clearest finality that there is no separation between Jim’s blind rage and the rage that has infected the human population.

I don’t want to totally spoil the ending because this film will remain with you and is a must see.  It’s commentary on violence and society is forever salient: Violence is horrific, but forced civilization is worse and will lead to the ultimate act of revenge – THUMBS IN YOUR EYEBALLS or some such equivalent.  The other important lesson the film tries to inculcate is to beware of self-certain sanctimonious people because their grandiosity could doom us all.

Trailer: The Dark Knight Rises (Nokia Exclusive)

Marvel Studios’ The Avengers has been the runaway, blockbuster hit of 2012’s summer film season. The film has also become the film which detractors of Christopher Nolan’s third and final entry in his Dark Knight trilogy put up as the film to beat this summer. I like the fanboy enthusiasm that always comes out of the shadows whenever comic book films battle it out during the summer blockbuster season year in and year out, but I will say that instead of pitting the two mega-hits against each other fans of the comic book genre should embrace both because just around the corner will be the average to awful comic book films.

With just a month to go before the film’s release we get a new trailer (this one a Nokia Exclusive) for The Dark Knight Rises which looks to emphasis the action of the film where the previous trailers and teasers concentrated more on keeping the film’s story a secret. I’ve looked at these series’ of trailers and ads for the film like another of Nolan’s previous films with The Prestige. The first trailers and ads I see as the “The Pledge” from the film’s creators that hints at the grandiose event we’re going to be witness to. This latest trailer acts like “The Turn” as we see the magician performing the trick of this latest film giving the audience a bit more flash and pizzazz (maybe some misdirection as well to keep the story secret until the film’s release). For The Dark Knight Rises it will be on opening weekend when we finally see “The Prestige” that closes out (hopefully with critical-acclaim) Nolan’s turn as the caretaker of the Batman film franchise.

The Dark Knight Rises is set for a July 20, 2012 release date.

Horror Review: 28 Days Later (dir. by Danny Boyle)

(For the month of October 2011 I’ve decided (and the other writers have agreed) to make this a horror film review month. There will be at least a minimum of one review of a horror film posted every day until we reach Halloween. Since I did force the idea upon everyone I think I should start things off with a classic horror film in from the last ten years.)

For decades the zombie film genre has always been dominated by the rules set down by the grandfather of the modern “zombie story”. George A. Romero’s landmark horror film Night of the Living Dead from 1968 had taken what had been a gothic-style monster taken from the voodoo folklore of Haiti and the Caribbean and added to that an apocalyptic re-imagining which still resonates with film and horror fans alike to this very day.

There had been attempts to deviate from the rules set by Romero’s films. The most successful one had been the horror-comedy franchise Return of the Living Dead, but even that one didn’t have the legs to last. It wasn’t until 2002 when British indie filmmaker Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland collaborated on the one film which would help revive the zombie film genre and, at the same, create a schism within it’s rabid fan-base. The film I speak of is 28 Days Later.

Boyle’s attempt at horror begins with some well-meaning, but misguided animal activists breaking into a British animal research facility in an attempt to document animal cruelty and to rescue the animals being tested on. Right from the get-go we see that things are not what they seem to be as we witness research chimps bound to chairs and forced to watch unending scenes of violence. It’s from this opening that we see the origins of what will be the Rage virus which will sweep across all of Great Britain. It’s a well-done opening sequence which sets plants the seeds of the film’s rules. We learn more about the Rage virus as the film goes on, but from this opening we learn that the virus is infected through the blood of one already infected and that exposure is always 100% and fast.

The film quickly cuts from the first day of exposure from the first animal activist to a scene of the film’s lead in Jim (played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy) waking up from his month-long coma (hinted at to be 28 days) and finding the hospital that he had been admitted to empty of people with evidence that something violent had occurred to empty out the place. He ventures out into the city streets only to see that the empty hospital’s current state is not unique to the place but to all of London itself. This sequence with Jim wandering the empty and garbage-strewn streets on London has gone down as one of the iconic scenes in horror film history. Like Jim, we’re witnessing the utter silent horror of an empty London with papers and debris fluttering in the breeze. We street corners with desperate missives and flyers of people asking for information about missing loved ones. helping with Jim and our own growing sense of dread and horror is the excellent film score by John Murphy and use of GY!BE’s apocalyptic track “East Hastings” (a full version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “East Hastings”) which just added to the film’s apocalyptic tone.

It doesn’t take long for Jim to encounter the very thing which has empty London and the country of it’s people when he attempts to find refuge in a church. What usually is a place of refuge and salvation has become a place of horror as Jim must run for his life as Rage-infected individuals chase him through the streets of London before he’s rescue from a couple of survivors. The film gives more clues as to the extent of the epidemic from these pair of survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), and explaining to Jim the new rules of this new world.

Jim and his new companions will meet up with more survivors in the form of a father and daughter team (Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns) as they move from one refuge to another while trying to avoid the Rage-infected. Through this journey we see the group lose people and encounter survivors of a military blockade who have been sending radio transmissions to anyone that they have found the cure to the “infection”. It’s this “cure” which ends up becoming the main focus of the film’s story in the second-half of the film which also marks the film’s descent into “enemy within” territory as the enemy outside batters at the gates.

Boyle does a great job of working with Garland’s screenplay not just in paying homage to past zombie films, but also adding his own ideas to the genre in the form of the Rage-infected themselves. Zombies since Night of the Living Dead have always been of the slower, shambling at times, but not overly energetic variety. They may stumble forward when fresh meat is in view thus giving a sense of speed and momentum, but overall they’re easily avoidable in small numbers. It’s in their relentless, unending pursuit and horde-like numbers which gives them their horrific advantage. Boyle and Garland throws all that away and creates a new breed. People who act like zombies, but are not walking corpses, and whose Rage-infected metabolism have granted them the ability to chase after their prey and do so in as fast a manner as possible. It’s this game-changer which has split the zombie genre community in two with some decrying this change with others accepting it as a fresh change of pace.

28 Days Later is actually a film which takes Romero’s first three zombie films and condenses the themes and ideas from the first three Romero Living Dead films and explores them efficiently in one film. We see scenes of rampant consumerism as Jim and his group of survivors happen upon an abandoned local shopping mart and shop to their heart’s content. This scene is reminiscent of a similar montage from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead as survivors in the mall “shop” once they’ve secured the place. The film also has within a siege and the dangers posed by other human survivors towards others and their inability to work together for the common good which were major themes in both Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and, especially Day of the Dead (with its civilians versus military dynamics). It’s this theme which really drives the film in the second half and finally cements it’s foot in being one of the great “zombie” films in the genre.

The film also has some of Danny Boyle’s indie filmmaker fingerprints in addition to the horror of the story. Some of the visuals work in both conveying the horror of the current situation to Jim (and to the audience as we see everything for the first time when Jim does) to the beauty of the countryside as nature slowly begins to take back what man had taken. There’s a scene with the group driving down the English countryside with them in the background and the foreground a field full of flowers shot and made to look like an impressionistic painting. Of course, we can’t forget the scenes of London empty which wasn’t just wonderfully shot and framed, but also make’s one wonder how a film made on a low-budget (somewhere around 8-9 million dollars at that time) could afford to empty out all of London and do so in daytime.

28 Days Later still could’ve just made its way on the strength of Boyle’s direction, Garland’s writing and Murphy’s score, but the cast of relatively unknown (at the time) actors, Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris leading the bunch, were game enough to keep stride for stride with the rest of the film’s creative crew. Cillian Murphy does a great job as the everyman who the audiences will see as their avatar in the film while Harris blows away the stereotypical damsel-in-distress in most horror films. She actually joins a long line of strong female roles in other classic zombie films who don’t wait around for the men to save her, but who can handle herself when things get rough and bloody. The work of these newcomers plus those of veteran British actors Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston (as Major Henry West, leader of the military blockade who has the cure for infection) just shows that just because it’s a horror film doesn’t mean the acting has to be horrific.

It’s almost ten years since this film was first released and to say that it still holds up would be an understatement. It’s a horror film which has heart in addition to the the primal impulses which usually drives entries in the zombie film genre. It’s a testament to Danny Boyle as a filmmaker that he’s able to inject new life to what had become a subgenre in horror which had stagnated when it came to new ideas. it’s all because of 28 Days Later and it’s success with critics and the general public (not to mention becoming one of the most successful low-budget films ever) that the zombie genre earned a new resurgence in the entertainment landscape. Zombie films soon began to multiply (most of them awful, but always with several entries which would join this film in classic territory) and it also introduced young film fans to the classic films in the subgenre and to the one who created it all.

The film’s success didn’t just reinvigorate the subgenre but also push some of it’s cast and crew to new heights of fame. In five years a sequel, 28 Weeks Later,  would come out with talk from Boyle himself that he’s interested in making it a complete trilogy with 28 Months Later.

Scene I Love: Sunshine (dir. by Danny Boyle)

The scene in Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” where the crew reaches Mercury is one of my favorites. It may not be as powerful as Kaneda’s Death, but this is one of those moments I can watch and smile at. There are no words, but visually, It’s an awesome moment of reflection in the scheme of things. John Murphy and Underworld’s music add a nice touch to this.

Song of the Day: East Hastings (by Godspeed You! Black Emperor)

We’re now halfway through the week-long horror-themed “Song of the Day” feature and the first three days has been all Italian composers. Two of them were known for working in the grindhouse film scene while the other has been more well-renowned for having worked in spaghetti westerns and more mainstream, albeit very artful, film projects. The fourth selection in this fourth day of the series is the epic song “East Hastings” by the Montreal-based eclectic band Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

“East Hastings” was chosen because of not just its apocalyptic sound and tone, but also how it was used in an excellent way to highlight the desolation in Danny Boyle’s “zombie-faux” film, 28 Days Later.

The song begins after a brief prologue and shows Cilliam Murphy’s character walk the deserted and silent streets of London after waking up from a coma. His lost and dazed travel through the empty streets and by-ways of England’s capital was quite haunting and the song by GY!BE just added to the tension building up on the screen. If there ever was a song that typified the British viewpoint about how the world ends it would be “East Hastings”.

With the length of the track just under 18 minutes I’ve posted the YouTube postings which have been divided into two.

Review: Inception (dir. by Christopher Nolan)

The summer of 2010 has been quite a disappointment. While the films released during this major blockbuster season has been good most have not been able to be that one stand-out which defines a summer season. We’ve had the typical tentpole sequels like Iron Man 2 (good but not great) and Toy Story 3 (also good but not great) to remakes like The Karate Kid to The A-Team. To say that the 2010 summer blockbuster season has been lackluster would be an understatement. Even original films like Splice hasn’t taken in the audience. It now falls to one of the biggest titles for the summer to try and save the season. Whether it will do so financially is still in doubt, but critically the latest from Christopher Nolan may just become the event film of the summer to actually deliver on its hype and the promise of an audience seeing something new, fresh and daring in a sea of mediocrity. Inception comes into the 2010 summer season and delivers on its promises and more than lives up to the hype heaped upon it by critics and fans alike.

A film almost a decade in the making, Christopher Nolan’s epic and sweeping tale of dreams and reality wrapped around a heist film brings the filmmaker one-step closer to becoming the genius filmmaker some of his most ardent followers have dubbed him to be. Nolan as a filmmaker and, more importantly, as a storyteller has always had a fascination with shattered reality and how the subconcious directly affect his protagonists’ sense of the real. We’ve seen this in his film-style of using a disjointed and non-linear structure to his films which goes to creating a sense of confusion in the inattentive viewer. Some have called this style of his as being a gimmick to make a simple story more complex than it really is. I disagree with these individuals and say that Nolan has never done anything to trick an audience with his storytelling style and choices. His films have all the facts laid out before the audience, but in a way that asks the audience to participate in putting the jumbled pieces together. I’ve never seen a red herring used by Nolan in his more personal projects and even in the populist titles he’s done under the rebooted Batman franchise.

In his latest film, Nolan has refined his non-linear style and used it to successfully create the main setting of the film. Inception is set mostly in the dream world shared by the characters and those they’ve targeted. It is in this shared dream state that the audience learn the rules governing the world of Inception. It is in this dream state that we’re introduced to the first people who would make up an incredible ensemble cast put together by Christopher Nolan and his casting crew. We first meet dream extractor Dom Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his pointman Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as they attempt to steal something valuable and important from within the dream of their Japanese-industrialist mark in Saito (Ken Watanabe). We see hints of the rules that will become important for the audience to help them follow the film’s main story as it unfolds. We learn that Saito has already known in advance that he’s in a dream constructed and being shared by Dom and Arthur in their contracted heist by parties unknown. As good as Dom and Arthur are at their job os stealing ideas from a mark through their dreams they have no chance when someone from Dom’s past inserts herself in their plans to sabotage what they’ve worked to accomplish.

It’s in this introductory sequence that we learn of the backstory of Dom and why his latest heist-job didn’t work out too well and has now endangered not just himself but those he has been working with. Saito gives Dom and Arthur a way out of their problems after failing in this job to steal from him by doing a job for him. But unlike previous dream heists Dom and Arthur have done in the past this time Saito doesn’t want something stolen from someone’s mind but to have an idea planted so deep within a mark’s subconscious that the mark believes it to be their very own and not one planted by an outsider. The job doesn’t require Dom to be an extractor of ideas. He’s now to find a way to successfully plant an idea. A job known as “inception” which Arthur and others deem near-impossible to pull off and one quite dangerous not just to the mark but to those involved in the process.

To say anymore about the plot of the film would be to spoil it. Inception works best when as little as possible about the film is known going in. The surprise and awe of the story unfolding is half the fun. It’s like an intricate puzzle or game one tries to solve. It’s ok to know ahead of time how to solve things, but not as fun. While for some people the way Nolan uses non-linear storytelling can be confusing all he asks his audience is to pay attention to the details and clues he’s planting in every scene and piece of dialogue. Let’s be honest this film is not for the inattentive. I won’t say stupid since that implies having low intelligence. It doesn’t take intelligence to pay attention and I’ve known that some of the more intelligent people have a tendency to let their attention wander.

Inception is a film about big ideas and grandiose themes. While the story in of itself when broken down to its simplest common denominator is just a heist film done in a new way, the film allows for layers upon layers of ideas to wrap itself around this simplistic premise. Nolan doesn’t just play with disjointing time for audience. He’s gone and went towards manipulating reality within the subconscious thought to ask the audience a simple question.

Are what we seeing a dream or is it reality?

The film doesn’t trick us using red herrings to make us think one way or another. Everything Nolan has put up on the screen is quite literal and remembering the rules he had set-up in the first hour lays the groundwork for each individual audience to answer that question for themselves. There’s no right or wrong answer to the question, but for some who have seen the film their disappointment seem less to do with the quality of the film, the acting and the direction but more on some of the ambiguous nature of the ending which becomes a dealbreaker for some. Again while I respect their take on this film I find their reasoning for negative criticism to be grounded on thin to non-existent ground. I will get to that ending soon.

While some have called Inception as the anti-Avatar I believe the two filmmaker share similar traits not just in how they create their film, but also in their two latest film. Both Nolan and Cameron are quite known to be very controlling of how their films are made to the point they dabble in every aspect of it. In their latest films they’ve also gone a long way into building a world for their story and characters to inhabit and play around in. While Cameron’s latest was an otherworldly kind in the most literal sense the same could be said for Nolan’s latest but instead inhabits the mind and how anything is possible. From the look of things both film will also share the same sort of near-universal acclaim from the film-going audience with a small, albeit very loud, minority calling Nolan’s film unoriginal, boring and, a word I have loathed for its overuse when something becomes very popular, overrated.

Where the two filmmakers diverge is the way they go about their films. Where Cameron leans heavily in pulling at the emotional strings of the audience through narrative and film sequences in his films, Nolan plies the audiences intellect instead. Cameron for all his technical genius both within the filmmaking sphere and outside of it can be quite the sappy filmmaker and all his films have shown this whether it’s The Terminator or Avatar. For Nolan his films have always felt like an intellectual exercise. An exercise everyone was invited to participate in no matter their level of intellect. He’s been able to marry both his indipendent arthouse sensibilities with the blockbuster the masses seem to crave year in and year out. With Inception he has moved one-step closer to achieving a perfect meshing of the two. This film has all the makings of a great heist and sci-fi thriller wrapped around so many pieces of profound and thoughtprovoking ideas that even after several viewings an audience will find something new to think about. Only one other film I can think of in the last decade or so has accomplished this and that was 1999’s The Matrix by The Wachowski Brothers. While that film was a kick-ass sci-fi action film it also dared to mix in a liberal dose of philosophy both Eastern and Western not to mention subjecting it’s audience to rethink how they see reality.

Christopher Nolan has gone beyond just trying to question the nature of reality. His goal with this film is to deconstruct the nature of the subconscious itself and show how such a thin line separates the dream from the real that at first and, even several glances, one cannot tell the difference. It’s a good thing for the audience watching Inception that Nolan has given them the tools and the rules to follow if they dare. And that’s where I think Nolan will disnguish himself apart from other great directors of his generation and put him up on the level of the true masters in film history. He doesn’t just make films that has worldwide appeal but able to do them while still able to engage his audience to open up their minds to the infinite possibilities his stories offer. While this does make his film a tad cold and distant for some that shouldn’t detract from the high-quality of his work, especially with Inception. The film has heart. It just doesn’t pluck on those particular beats to engage the audience.

I think filmblogger Devin Faraci said it best on his Twitter feed while discussing the film with others. While not exactly verbatim what I got out of it was that he thought it was always easy to engage and/or manipulate the audience through emotional factors, but much harder to engage their intellect. While some have accomplished the former to a great extent and vice versa I think with Inception Nolan has stepped closer than anyone to engage both the heart and the mind of the audience.

This review cannot be too much of a review if I just spoke about the ideas, themes and the inner workings of Nolan’s mind. The film is actually very good. Good enough to that’s close to being perfect. Pick any aspect of the film and those involved have done some of their best work and grown in their craft. As I stated earlier the film sports one incredible ensemble cast. I’ve already mentioned Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who both do very great work in their roles. DiCaprio continues to be the go-to-guy when it comes to playing the tortured individual. Similar to his other role in Scorsese’s Shutter Island, DiCaprio as Cobb was quite believable in his personal-made hell in regards to a past event which involved his wife Mal (played with beautiful elegance and malice by Marion Cotillard). But unlike Scorsese’s film Nolan doesn’t reveal this personal issue through a twist in the plot, but let’s it come out naturally with the help of another cast member providing the impetus for Cobb to come clean. This individual is the team’s new dream architect in the form of Ariadne (Ellen Page in her most mature role to date and one that should go a long way from helping her shed the label of being Juno-esque).

Ariadne becomes the proxy by which the audience learns the in’s and out’s of Cobb’s job as a dream extractor and, very soon, inceptor. Through some inventive use of CGI and practical effects we see throught Ariadne’s eyes how the shared dream-state behaves. How specific rules actually exist within this state no matter how many levels of dreams an individual or group goes down into a mark’s subconscious. Some of these scenes people have seen glimpses of in the trailers and tv spots, but even seeing some of them in advance doesn’t detract from how incredible they look when seen on the bigscreen, especially for those lucky enough to see them on IMAX.

The rest of the cast rounded out by Tom Hardy as Eames the team’s Forger, Dileep Rao as the Chemist in charge of fabricating the compounds needed for the team to enter their mark’s subconscious. Cillian Murphy (starting to become one of Nolan’s regulars) plays Robert Fischer, Jr. their target and mark throughout the film with veteran actors Tom Berenger, Michael Caine and Pete Postlethwaite providing the wise-men roles in the film. It’s Tom Hardy as Eames which stood out in a cast full of extraordinary young and veteran performers. His recent fame as an actor due to his brutal and daring performance in Bronson has made Hardy a hot commodity in Hollywood. His playful character of Eames serves to provide some levity in an otherwise very serious film which allows the audience to come closer to the characters and story instead of remaining distant as Nolan’s detractors like to point out. He nearly pulls off stealing the film from everyone everytime he’s on-screen. It’s a testament to all the actors that he doesn’t as each and everyone have their moments to shine without overshadowing their fellow co-stars.

It would be difficult to review this film without pointing out how beautiful it looks and sounds. The visual part of the film has to go to Walter Pfister who works his magic behind the cameras on this film. Every shot is clear, concise and free of tricks some cinematographers these days have come to rely on too often to make their shots look more dynamic than it really should be. The editing by Lee Smith makes sure that Nolan’s style doesn’t confuse the audience and keeps the non-linear narrative structure easy to comprehend. As for the score one has to look to Hans Zimmer’s growing rapport with Nolan. He’s scored two of Nolan’s film and it looks that Zimmer has tapped into what Nolan wants his film score to sound like. not to dominate or overemphasize particular scenes or beats, but to act as an accompaniment. All three individual do their part as does the actors into making Nolan’s vision of Inception come to life. As great a filmmaker as Nolan is turning out to be these support players have made sure his path towards that goal is done so on smoother ground than not.

Now, there’s going to be some heated and long debates as to the nature of the film because of the final shot. The final shot is of a metal dreidel spinning in the foreground with the camera panning to it. The dreidel is spinning and spinning and looks to keep on doing so. The dreidel is shown earlier in the film as acting as some sort of anchor to tell Cobb whether he is in the real world or in a dream. If it continues to spin and not tip over and fall then he’s still in one. If it spins but ultimately tips over onto its side then he’s out of it. The film ends with the dreidel spinning and for a split second before the film suddenly fades to black we see it wobble.

Many have seen this final shot as being a cop-out by Nolan to play with the audience’s mind. I happen to disagree.  I see it as a part of the story itself. nolan has been asking throughout the film what is real and what is a dream. This last shot just emphasizes this question and leaves it up to the audience to decide whether the dreidel continues to spin or eventually tips over. While I lean to the latter in the end it doesn’t detract from the film. The fact that some people have grabbed hold of this scene to negatively criticized the film as a whole tells me just how well-crafted a film Nolan has made that one little sequence lasting no less than 10 seconds becomes a dealbreaker for some when it should stimulate the mind into thinking what it actually means. I see that as the mark of an excellent storyteller.

In the end, Inception has done something this year which most film have so far been unable to do. It has delivered on its high-minded promises of a film that would challenge the audience and not just entertain them. It’s a film which has been overhyped for the last six month but has more than lived up to it and for some surpassed the hype itself. Inception looks to be one of those films which would forever define a filmmaker and this one will definitely define Nolan moving forward no matter what other projects he has in the future. This is a film that dares to appeal not just to the arthouse cineaste crowd but to the general audience who yearn to watch something exciting and original. I won’t say this is Nolan’s best film since he has years upon years to continue making films. Maybe one of those will be his masterpiece, but Inception definitely could be counted as being a nominee for that honor. If nothing else this film has saved what has been a very ordinary and lackluster 2010 summer film season.