Undertale – Review

 

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What it is:

An indie game made by Toby Fox after a successful kickstarter campaign, “Undertale” is a retro-style RPG following the tale of a human child who accidentally falls into an underground world of monsters beneath a mountain, and the child’s quest to return home. This story shares a basic premise with similar games, but the branching paths of the plot, characters, and even game mechanics, take twists and turns that upend many of the expectations and tropes that have become the bedrock of the genre.  

 

The Short of It:

“Undertale” is an exceptional game. It is not long, even considering multiple playthroughs, but the game makes every second of your time worth it. The game mechanics are simple but brilliant. The basic art and bit music are used to excellent effect to create a colorful world that is a joy to explore and live in, and to provide an atmosphere of quirk, adventure and heart to the player’s journey.

The plot has multiple branching paths created by the player’s interactions with the charming characters, and yet these branches are marked more by the change of relationships of the player to the characters than by changes in the plot. Despite this, every little branch feels world-shakingly different.

“Undertale” is a funny, clever, and deceptively simple game with a big heart and impressive meta-knowledge of how people play RPG games that allows it to rise well beyond the typical genre fare.

The Long of It: Continue reading

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“The Revenant” – Movie Review

 

The Revenant 1

The Premise:

Hugh Glass and his son, Hawk, are fur trappers in the wilderness of the unsettled Louisiana Purchase working for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company under the command of Captain Andrew Henry. The enterprize disintegrates when the group meets hostility and violence from the local Native Americans. Having to abandon their goods, the survivors begin a perilous trip back. While scouting ahead, Glass is savagely mauled by a bear and barely survives. His companions patch his wounds and try to travel with him but find it impossible. They leave Glass behind in the hands of his son and his fellow hunters Jim Bridger and John Fitzgerald, to heal or be buried when he dies.

Fitzgerald, a self-centered racist of a man, kills Hawk and tricks Bridger into abandoning Glass to die in a shallow grave. They then proceed back to the fort. Glass, however, is not dead and has vengeance in mind. What follows is a harrowing tale of survival and revenge across the American wilderness.

 

The Short of It:

This is an intense movie, done with an artistic style and a sense of poignancy. The plot is interesting and captivating with a satisfying conclusion, carried by excellent performances by everyone involved, but none more so than Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass. It is not “fun,” and it is not packed with action. If you go into the film expecting that, then you might very well be bored. However, if you go in on the film’s terms and can handle violent imagery, it is highly entertaining. I recommend it.

 

The Long of It: Continue reading

“Marvel’s The Avengers” Review

“Marvel’s The Avengers”


Marvel assembles a near-perfect super hero film.

May 08, 2012 – This review has been a few days coming at this point. That time was necessary to separate my pure fan-boy enthusiasm from my critical side, even if this is never entirely possible. But a few days is nothing for a film that has been so long in coming. It has been long waited for by the fans who had faith that it would work. It has been long due for the characters and franchises who have been building ever so steadily up to this moment, and it has been long past time for Joss Whedon to get the spotlight he deserves. All of that time was well spent, and for everyone involved it paid off in grand fashion.

Part of Marvel’s cinema success story, and what makes “The Avengers” possible is the long road of films that lead to this point. Each one gave time to flesh out the heroes in their own way, showing their inner conflicts, expanding on their relationships, and letting the audience get to know them. And strung through them all was the hinted promises of the “Avengers Initiative.” Because of these little links, and the time dedicated to each character’s backstory, “The Avengers” film isn’t forced to labor over each character, giving lengthy exposition over who each person is and why they are here.

If any of this may seem to indicate that the film is not concerned at all with characterization, then you would be terribly mistaken. As Joss Whedon has proved through his small-screen efforts like “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly,” he has a knack for using the smallest pieces of dialogue and body language to layer the characters in every scene they inhabit. All of the characters, from Tony Stark and Thor to Steve Rogers and Loki, are given depth that either compliments or excels the same seen in their own films.

The actors all give their very best in these performances. The actors must feel these characters as second clothes by now, as each one inhabits their respective roles perfectly. The prime example would be Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, who manages to not only have the best lines and scenes in the entire film, but also manages to outperform both previous film incarnations of the angry green giant.

Edward Norton’s portrayal had a good angle and approach, but Ruffalo’s is by far the superior, with palpable undercurrents of emotion and tension, alongside a dry wit and world-weary struggle.

Even the second stringers on the Avengers line-up, Black Widow and Hawkeye, manage to find additional layers while looking extremely bad ass, with some of their fight sequences being the most interesting in the entire film. The Hulk can just plow through his opponents. Black Widow and Hawkeye have to outwit and out maneuver them, and they do so with amazing style and skill.

One of the best things about the Avengers is how these disparate individuals and personalities interact with one another. Captain America’s honest integrity, but simplistic worldview clashes headlong into Tony Stark’s narcissistic playboy attitude. Thor’s otherworldly perspective feels very alien, foreign and even vaguely threatening to the other Avengers, and Bruce Banner, as likeable as he is for everyone involved, nevertheless creates tension as a ticking time-bomb of rage.

All of this interaction, with heroes sparing both verbally and physically, could have ended up a horrible mess, but again Joss Whedon turns it into a strength through the skills he honed on television. The dialogue is a particular stand out of the film. Almost every line of dialogue manages to feel completely natural, meaningful and interesting. I have to say “almost” because some of the lines in the first twenty minutes of the film were jarring, largely because they were for exposition’s sake. The contrast between these few lines and the rest of the film makes them stand out like a sore thumb.

A little bit like Cap’s outfit (I wasn’t impressed by the hood’s look).


While we’re on the subject of the first twenty minutes, there is no getting past the fact that the beginning is slow and doesn’t do the rest of the film justice. Most of this can be laid at the feet of necessity. There has to be set-up so that the film makes sense. But somehow that set-up, for all the crumbling S.H.E.I.L.D. facilities and character introductions, never managed to grab my attention. However, from the reveal of Fury’s incredible flying ship on, the film started picking up momentum and didn’t stopped until the end.

And what an end. The fans have been promised awesome set-piece action and fights in this film, and Whedon delivers. If Joss Whedon is not somehow heralded, finally, for all the amazing work that he has done it would be a crime. Does the film have perfect casting? Yes. Does it have a lot of talent in every area of the film? Absolutely. But if I were to lay the success of this film at the feet of any one individual, it would be Joss Whedon. Without him at the helm, this whole film would have almost certainly been a completely garbled mess.

I haven’t seen this must fantastic action and choreography in a summer blockbuster in a very long time. There are inevitable comparisons to the Transformers series of films, but the Avengers comes out on top. The cinematography captures every leap, punch and energy blast in a way that is comprehensible and understandable in the context of the larger battle. The Transformer films only ever got lost in the sound of screeching metal and unidentifiable alien beasts thrashing one another in poorly framed sequences. The Avenger’s action is clear and crisp, allowing the audience to feel the excitement and awe of the spectacle, rather than confusion and frustration.

Above that, the action in this film has meaning. Even if we never truly worry about the fate of these heroes, there are stakes involved beyond mere life and death of the major players. Their motivations are based in their characters, and by losing, they would be losing themselves. The “Avengers” isn’t just a name, it’s who they are. They have found themselves members of a very dysfunctional family, and doing this – saving the earth from invaders from another world, is what they are meant to do. It isn’t a duty. It’s who they are.

Perhaps the greatest surprise is how funny the movie is. I laughed more loudly, and more honestly than I have in any comedy I’ve seen in the last decade. The laughs don’t come from forced pop culture references, or the lame sight gags that passes for good humor. They come from pure character moments. It’s practically liberating.


Closing Comments:
I struggled to come to a conclusion over what score I would give this film. The fan-boy in me is still giddy from seeing these characters on screen together giving the bad guys a good thrashing. The critic sees the little tweaks of dialogue that felt too much like exposition, and the very slow first twenty minutes. But the more I thought about it the more I was convinced. This is what a summer blockbuster is supposed to be. This is what action really looks like. This is the sound of humor. This is what excitement and satisfaction feels like. “Marvel’s The Avengers” not only outdoes the best of modern summer action flicks, it harkens back to a time when going to the theaters to watch a movie on a summer evening was one glorious thing: unadulterated fun. There are very few people who won’t enjoy themselves. Hollywood, it’s okay to take notes.

Oh, and give that Whedon guy a freaking medal, alright?

STAR RATING: (5)

Five out of Five Stars

For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a extra segment for you called Spoiler Talk. It’s a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story or themes that are too spoilerish or high-concept for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.

Spoiler Talk:
Man, I could talk about the Avengers all day, but honestly I don’t have that kind of time, so lets work our way from the end backwards and see how far we go.
One word: Shwarma. What is it? What does it taste like? I don’t know, but I sure want to find out. That very last scene after the end credits was absolutely priceless, and probably the most Whedonesque thing in the entire film. It simply showed our exhausted heroes, our dysfunctional family who stand for everything that is “us” sitting around a table enjoying the silence, the food and each-other’s company. I loved it. Oh, and the people cleaning up in the background were awesome too.
Of course before there was Shwarma there was… Thanos!

This is big news to us comic geeks. I mean, of all the Avenger’s villains, only Ultron or Galactus comes close in my books, and Thanos is the only one that makes sense at the moment. (Ultron would make a good third movie after being introduced through Henry Pym who would be good to introduce in the second movie, and Galactus is tied up at Fox anyway, but I digress).

Thanos could certainly provide the kind of threat that it would take to bring these guys together again. I could see him stealing the Infinity gauntlet from Odin’s vault and attempting to wipe out the population of Earth in an effort to court Death (a female entity in the Marvel universe). Good stuff.

Speaking of Thanos, his Chitauri underlings who worked with Loki are a version of the same villains in the Ultimates line of comic books. It was a smart move because going with the Skrulls invites its own barrel of expectations, while there isn’t nearly as much Mavel history tied up with the Chitauri, and in general they make decent minions. That being said, I feel like the villains are criminally underused in comparison to the threat they represent in the Ultimates comics.

That is actually my only other gripe in the film. Loki and his minions never seemed to be all that threatening. Of course they really weren’t the point of the film, and it’s not like they were no threat at all, but it seemed like in most cases the Avengers thwarted them easily enough. Despite this, Tom Hiddleston continues his great performance as Loki, a god with serious daddy issues. Seriously, can somebody give him a hug already? On the other hand, he should just get over himself too. Poor little rich kid raised as a god has issues. Wah-wah.

The fact that I’m this involved in Loki’s character actually says something really positive, I think.

Despite the villains somewhat lackluster threat, they provided a really satisfactory target for all of the heroes in the final fight. I mean that was a seriously fun fight.

Every character had a chance to be a badass. There are so many little moments, there are too many to talk about, but I will single out one amazing sequence. A single, uninterrupted camera shot follows the various heroes around the battlefield, showing them work together and off of each other I turn. It is one of the most fantastic pieces of team choreography in an action sequence I have ever seen. I want to see the entire film again just for this one shot.

When I said earlier that the Hulk had the best moments, I was thinking specifically of two things, and if you don’t want it spoiled for yourself… then you are a moron for reading this far.

When the Hulk grabs Loki and starts smashing him around like a rag doll, I was in stitches laughing. It was perfectly timed, and perfectly executed. And again, when the Hulk punches Thor out of no-where, I busted up laughing. It was perfect.

There are so many things I could talk about, but really I think I touched on all the bigger elements. So really, go watch it again. Or if you haven’t watched it yet… What are you doing here!? Stop! Now! Go watch it already! Man… some people.

“Penny-Arcade TV” – Season 1 Review


Documenting The Genuine Humanity Behind The Nerd Culture Phenomenon.

Aug 21, 2010 – It is difficult to review a show of this kind. Not because it is a web series; the medium has little to do with the quality of the show. Rather because I have seen so few television series that I would describe as a documentary. Perhaps I need to go further than that. After all, someone may take a televised live-action recreation of a famous historical figure’s life, John Adams for instance, to be a documentary as well. Let me then call it a Genuine Documentary. I call it this, not just because it is the documentation of a living person, or because it is the actual taped events and not a recreation, but because of the focus and direction of the series.

Most documentaries take specific routes in the way they present their subject. They may present the topic as a dramatic narrative, using recreation or actual footage along with some sort of narrative device that notes the events of the subject chronologically. Others eject the narrative and go for pure written and acted drama, like a movie or serialized television show. Still others present facts for and against different viewpoints and ultimately leans toward, or takes, a side.

Penny-Arcade TV takes a different route altogether. The narrator is ejected, replaced with informal interviews with the subjects, namely Jerry, Mike and Robert (and the people surrounding them.) The plot is almost non-existent. Instead it is replaced with vignettes of the lives, events and world of the people behind Penny-Arcade.
This approach to telling the story of Penny-Arcade is artistic in nature, allowing for very poignant and revealing episodes, each focused on some aspect of the real lives of real people. This avoids all the trappings of artificial drama created by reality shows like Survivor and the dullness of lesser PBS specials. There was, perhaps, a danger of reveling in egotistical self-promotion or aggrandizement, like so many reality shows that follow the lives of celebrities, but the show never even skirts that issue, largely thanks to the grounded and un-celebrity like personalities of the show’s stars.

The camera work is simple but solid. The music is appropriate to the general feel of Penny-Arcade and is always a treat to listen to. The editing is wonderful at pacing the episodes, with sort clips that convey a lot in little time, and occasional longer shots that bring an interesting amount of intimacy.

The real success of the show is in how it draws the viewer into Jerry and Mike’s world and makes them a friend. The audience feels like they can really relate to these people, heroes of the growing geek populace, and yet still regular guys with families, careers, goals and dreams. Watching the creative process and the chemistry between Mike and Jerry as long-time friends is fascinating, as is their reactions and relationship to the movement they’ve helped create through the Penny Arcade Expo and their online comics. As interesting as that all is, some of the most powerful moments are watching them with their kids and families. There is a beauty of lives well lived and time well spent that evokes a feeling of truth that borders on religious revelation. These are people who don’t waft through life, they fly on it.


Closing Comments:

I have always been, and always will be a fan of Penny-Arcade. Not just the comic, which is hilarious and full of wonderful geek references, not just the blogs which are as thought provoking as they can sometimes be confusing (very big words, my friends,) and not just the merchandise (hey, I love the T-Shirts,) but I am also a fan of the artists, the geeks, the people behind Penny-Arcade. The reason is because of this show; one of the best portraits of the heroes and role models behind the geek movement there is. And no, not just because it’s the only one.

STAR RATING: (5 Stars)

Five out of Five Stars


“Avatar: The Last Airbender” – TV Show Review (All Books)


It beats the pants off of anything else with the word “Avatar” in the title.

Aug 14, 2010 – There are many, many cartoons that come and go, relying on poor fart jokes, slapstick, simple stories and minimalistic artistry to capture their audience. They spark in the air, fall hard to the ground and get swept off to that watery graveyard of lost memories. But then there are some cartoons that surpass the chaff and show the power of their medium while becoming iconic pieces of popular culture that remain important and enjoyable for all time as works of art. Batman: The Animated Series was one of the best examples of this. It was a show that combined smart writing, voice acting and skillful animation into one grand work that remains a staple of animated television shows now and well into the future. There are not enough animated shows like that. The hall of fame is a small one.

But thankfully, every once and a while, something emerges from the ice of television business to grow into something that bends all the elements of a good show into something more than its parts. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a cartoon show of such caliber as to be inducted into the upper echelons instantly; becoming a classic alongside the aforementioned Batman: The Animated Series and the few others that achieve the same.

I came to the series after having watched the dreadful M. Night Shyamalan film translation (or butchering, perhaps?) and I admit that the film clouded my first impressions of the series. But as I watched, the values of the show that the film lacked became apparent. Not only was the television format more conducive to the plot structure, but it also allowed for far more time to build characterization and a sense of time and place. Characters who were mere cardboard cut-outs in the film, with wretched dialogue, became greater and more fleshed out. The performances were better, and far more alive. In the biggest turn, the sad Avatar of the film was replaced with the child-like, joyful and yet complex Aang of the TV show. The show may have suffered slightly through the first Book(season) for how much I hated the film, but each season was better than the last, perfectly building upon what came before to set up something deeper and better.

The story is only generic in the sense that certain characters fit archetypes very well, Aang as the happy-go-lucky hero, Zuko as the outcast Prince, Sokka as the straight-guy to the fantasy around him, etc. What makes the show surpass cliché is how well the archetypes are done, with each character fitting the mold naturally according to their situation, personality and the events of the plot, rather than being forcefully adherent to predefined rules of how some character type should act. The terrific character arc for Zuko, taking him from pure adolescent rage born from shame, to his very different emotional range near the end, is especially arresting and gratifying.

The plotting, while being a simple tale of the hero’s journey, and of war between an evil empire and disparate nations, only appears simple from the widest perspective. The way the war is fought and portrayed is far more nuanced than it might appear at first glance. The hero’s journey follows a well worn but somehow never quite predictable path. What would be cliché in a lesser story is made iconic and polished in Avatar: TLA.

The voice acting is top-notch with only a few occasions where things felt too stiff or overdone. The ability of the people behind the voices to convey emotion and subtext far surpasses the ability of the live action counterparts from the recent summer blockbuster. It’s the voice acting that truly sells the already well done dialogue, and it is especially important when a character slips into exposition, which happens regularly enough to notice, but not enough to become annoying.

The animation compliments the story with expressive faces that are unique to each character, wonderful backdrops and smooth frame to frame transition. The style is, as has been noted by many, a blend of Anime and Western design, which could have been a failure, but instead borrows the strengths of both. Whether it was the writers or the animators or perhaps someone else entirely, the animated combat sequences are some of the best, most creative and most fluid I’ve ever seen in a cartoon. In some cartoons, combat is either boring or repetitive. Dragon Ball Z, and many other similar anime shows, waste loads of time with characters staring menacingly at one another while they power up for their next attack. Avatar never wastes time. Each scene is full of new frantic action that uses the environment and abilities of each character as skillfully as such a character might do in real life. And the fights themselves are expressive, carrying far more emotional weight than most fights in cartoons. Altogether, it’s the best action cartoon ever created.

To top everything off, the music is varied, appropriate and memorable. The composer made good use of exotic instruments to accompany the story in such a way as to punctuate the narrative without ever really drawing attention to itself.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of the show is the creator’s ability to know how to limit their story. Some shows will drag on and on forever, creating ever thinner plot threads in an effort to continue their run on television. This show is only three seasons long, despite its monumental success. There are filler episodes here and there, yes. But they are few, and still fun while doing a good job of illuminating characters and motivations. Each season is better than the last, and it has an epic, emotionally satisfying and climactic end.

Closing Comments:

I’m laying down a lot of praise for Avatar: The Last Airbender. While I wonder if I wouldn’t tone down the exclamations of praise a tad with more distance between myself and the show (I’m still on the high of finishing the last episode earlier today,) I know that it will remain one of my favorites even still. If you are an anime fan, a cartoon fan, a fantasy fan, an Asian culture fan, or simply a fan of well told stories, then give this a go. In the end, the best thing I feel I can ever say about a piece of art or entertainment is that I was sad that it was over, and this show fits that qualification thoroughly.

STAR RATING: (5 Stars)

Five out of Five Stars

For those of you who stuck around after the rating, I’ve got a segment called Spoiler Talk. This is a segment in which I discuss what I thought of certain elements of the story that is too spoilerish for the main review. What I say here doesn’t ever trump my review, instead it might give insight into what exactly made me give something the score I did. So let’s get started.

Spoiler Talk:

Whew. That finale was pretty sweet, huh? My favorite part was actually not Aang kicking the Phoenix King’s butt, but rather the portrayal of Azula’s character. Up until the end she was one of the most flatly evil characters of the show, making for an oppressive presence, but with little real character insight other than some vague hints about mommy issues. But the last couple of episodes did a lot to show just how fractured her mind really was. Looking back on the series, you can almost see the cracks showing. In reality she could have exploded into full-on looney bin territory at any time. She was a very fragile individual in the end, and I felt it was shown marvelously.

I’m not certain whom I would label my favorite character, I love them all for different reasons. But if I were forced to choose it might be Zuko, simply because of his wonderful character arc (Yeah, he makes a great good-guy at the end.) Also high on my list would be his uncle Iroh, who would make a perfect grandfather to just about anyone, methinks. Characters that surprised me for how much I liked them in the end included Mae, Zuko’s girlfriend, Sokka, who is easy to write off for being the regular guy of the bunch, and finally Azula, whom I’ve already talked about. I don’t actually like her, but I think she’s a wonderful evil character.

How can you not like Zuko?


Her, and her father’s plan to commit genocide on the Earth Nation was a great way to raise the stakes after the defeat and conquest of Ba Sing Se. That’s something the writers truly knew how to balance well, increasing the danger and stakes every episode while never extinguishing the hope entirely.

Also of note were the White Lotuses. I found their involvement throughout the series to be nicely subtle, with their final appearance to be fun and interesting, though it was completely overshadowed by the other two fronts of the war being fought simultaneously. The fact that Iroh’s presence in the story was decrease severely near the end was necessary for Zuko’s development, but I still missed him.

The episode with the play put on about Aang and the group was also very well done, managing multiple responsibilities creatively. Not only did it give a recap of the story from beginning to end and provide relief from the building tension, but it also gave an opportunity for further character growth, interaction and self-reflection. On top of all that, it showed that the writers are capable of poking fun at their own work, which is endearing on one level, and comforting in another. It reassure the audience that, yes, they do know what they are doing, and every turn of the story is well thought out.

Even the Deus Ex Machina Moments Are Well-Done


There are so many things I could talk about, from how cool the air-ball that Aang can travel on is, to the integration and alienation of the spirit world. I think I’ll refrain from going any further here, however, as there’s only so many hours in an evening.

On one final note, that poor cabbage merchant is one hilarious and long-running gag. I don’t think I ever tired of it.

– Edward L. Cheever II

“Inception” Review


Christopher Nolan Dreams Big And Delivers Yet Again.

July 19, 2010 – The Dark Knight was the first film that really brought Christopher Nolan’s name to my notice, but he had already directed a film I enjoyed back in 2000 with the brain bending film Memento. Inception really feels like Nolan took the philosophical sensibilities of Memento, the polish of The Dark Knight and mixed in a little Ocean’s Eleven for good measure. What he ends up with is very likely his best film yet.

It’s hard to know where to begin. How Nolan managed not only to fit all the pieces together in the story and for it to make sense, but also doing it while simultaneously dropping the audience into the middle of the action, hardly taking a breath to explain things, is still mostly a mystery to me. But he managed it beautifully, and in the end the audience knows what happened and why it happened even when the ending throws everything up in the air again.

Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb, a professional Extractor, or dream-theif, who steals corporate secrets hidden in the dreams of these companies’ CEOs for the profit of his employer. When an extraction goes south, he is captured and offered a chance to clear his record and go home to his estranged children for the price of doing a job. An Inception, or planting an idea in a dreamers head, something far more difficult than extraction. Desperate to see his children again, he accepts and assembles a team to help him break into the mind of the son of a dying CEO.

What follows is a heist film, a trip through dream space, an action adventure and an emotional drama all wrapped into one seamless narrative that weaves back and forth through the pieces magically. The best parts of the film are when characters are being hit emotionally and philosophically even as their ability to react to the real dangers around them are being tested.

Leonardo DiCaprio is the perfect leading man for the film, able to carry the physicality, emotion and smarts all at once without seeming fake in any capacity. He became Cobb, and that’s what a great actor does. The other actors do marvelously as well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Cobb’s partner, Arthur, with panache, wit and humor. Comedy is hard to pull off in a film in which you have to so carefully lure the audience into believing, but Levitt pulls it off. Ken Watanabe’s Saito, the man who offers Cobb the Inception job, is played well, as is Tom Hardy’s Eames, Ellen Page’s Ariadne and Cillian Murphy’s wonderful turn as Robert Fischer, the fragile heir to his dying father’s company. Marion Cotillard plays Cobb’s dead wife Mal who haunts Cobb’s dreams, and she pours menace and love into the role turning her into the perfect melding of the girl next door and a James Bond femme fatale.

But really all of the characters, however well acted, play second fiddle to DiCaprio’s Cobb, and it shows in the story telling. Exactly what Cobb’s crew will get out of the deal with Saito is unclear, though large sums of money are eluded to. What little vignettes of these characters we do get are delightful and insightful, with Fischer’s journey of reconciliation with his father (real or otherwise) is fascinating, emotional and believable to watch. But really going into depth with these other characters is not necessary. Cobb’s emotional burdens, his devastating memories and complex history involving his dead wife, are ultimately what carry the film to its bitter-sweet conclusion (which should keep conversations churning over water coolers around the nation for at least a couple weeks.)

The writing is the real star of the show, though. As I mentioned before, Nolan manages to drop the audience in medias res, introduce the concept of dream thievery understandably, pile dream layer upon dream layer and still make us care about the characters. The dialogue flows smoothly and realistically. Even the pieces of exposition (and they exist) are well hidden and make sense in their context. If this isn’t nominated for a writing Oscar it will be a bigger crime by far than The Dark Knight’s Oscar snub in 2008.

Beyond the writing is a wonderful piece of editing and cinematography which manages to capture the crazy gravity bending action, the intensity of the chases and the desperation of the dramatic moments without breaking down to clichéd imagery or too frantic camera movements. The editing is wonderfully paced keeping the audience abreast of events on multiple layers of dreams without coming at the expense of the storytelling (it heightens it, actually.) The sound design is great, the soundtrack is fantastic and underscores the scenes skillfully, and all of it is memorable and will remain iconic for some time to come.

Ultimately what a lot of people will really want to know is not “is this a great film?” That is unquestionable, in my mind. Instead, what most people are going to be asking is, “is it better than The Dark Knight.” Technically, Inception is the better film. Nolan managed to bring a masterfully dense narrative to life with as much polish as his Batman film and even better and smoother story telling. The Dark Knight, however, for all its grimness, was more fun and appealed to me just a little bit more than his latest masterpiece. Though it all comes down to personal preference, Nolan has proven one thing above all. He is a master director, who is not a fluke and easily the best thing happening in Hollywood.

Closing Comments:
This film is a certifiable success, bridging Nolan’s independent film-making sensibilities with action packed blockbuster style and scope to a perfect blend that will be remembered as one of the best films of the year and almost certainly the decade. I won’t hazard a guess as to where it will land in the great scheme of film history, but I hope it is remembered with the greats. You shouldn’t need my recommendation to know you should see this movie, but I’m giving it anyway. Go see this film.

STAR RATING: (5)

Five out of Five Stars