Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Inception: If Only Nolan Made "The Matrix" Sequels!

It's perfect; he just looks so happy.
You know what I do when a trailer shows the words "Christopher Nolan?" I close my eyes and hum quietly. I don't need to know any more; I'll ask for the name of the film later. And what can I say about a movie that inspired "F Yeah Strutting Leo?" -->
It is so rare to sit in a theater and think, "omygodican’tbelievehowgoodthisis." Or words to that effect. Also, when your brain is totally blank, eyes wide, as you follow a movie like a dog watching tennis? That's the same thing.

I felt that way for most of the 142 minutes of "Inception." With a stupid grin, too.

Some movie experiences are completely engrossing and unbelievably fun to sit through. It's great when any movie can manage that for a few scenes. "Inception" pulls it off flawlessly, with style and brains.

I could review this movie from a blank slate perspective, but no formalities now. 2010's "Inception" cost $160 million and made over $823 million. It was strongly marketed, and it performed like "Titanic." The Oscar noms include Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Score, FX, and Cinematography... I won't start from scratch.

Pretty sweet poster, too.
"Inception" begins, like many great films, with a man near death. Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio) washes up on the beach, a place that's all shore and rocky cliffs. Exhausted, he's carried into a massive, exquisite, Japanese mansion. A few objects are taken from Dom's pockets and shown to an old man. Recognizing one, the elderly leader knows he must hear this stranger's story...

For most, what follows is as enthralling as anything they've ever seen - the a/v version of the best story you ever heard. I walked into it with no foreknowledge, so I won't do worse by you; no giving the story away. & if I choose to go into heavy spoilers, "Inception" definitely merits a 2nd (or 3rd) post...

For those of you who felt underwhelmed and annoyed, your problem probably lies in something the movie pulls off skillfully: the constant dialogue. The roles talk, explain, and plan, plan, plan. It can seem like a youtube encyclopedia. Heaven help you if you can't keep up - or can't ignore what you just missed and still pay attention to everything else.

So a minority may have problems balancing two facts: (a) the characters are setting up the boundaries of the movie with (b) ideas that might be wrong about specific things they say (and believe). Asking viewers to believe and be skeptical at the same time, to "put your thinking caps on," doesn't guarantee it will make sense to everyone - but it should get pretty close.

I don't want you to watch this teaser, but you should have the option.

If you didn't like "Inception," take it this way: describe the planet Earth to a child. Tell them how many continents there are. Now explain why Europe turned away from the tip of Africa to look for another route to Asia. Are you right? Did you miss something? When the parts here talk, it's like that.

Dom's story puts the audience right into another film staple: guys having a conversation in a room. This flashback story is extra-weird, because it's still in the old man's sumptuous place... There (and then?), Cobb is talking with Arthur and Saito (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ken Watanabe). It's the sort of intricate discussion that suggests "very important doings" or "deception." None of it seems legal.

Every time one gate opens, right?... But is the gate your mind?
That's all I'll really give up. The rest of the picture is blissfully odd, riveting, fun... It's unusual because every 7 minutes you hear people explaining the rules/background of (a) what's going on, (b) what's happened, or (c) what they're going to do.  Such constant talk is bold. The test of "Inception" is how it makes all of these moments interesting - even satisfying and entertaining - then serves up breath-taking action.

Best internet meme ever.
Honestly, all these scenes sound crazy. Certainly a bare description of what happens could have that vibe: the actors are in constantly-shifting surroundings; the audience has the sense that anything could happen at any time; and even smart viewers might not see that everything in this story is both incredibly simple and painfully complex.

It's so ambitious, especially for a "blow stuff up" movie, that I ignored any holes in the plot. Very appropriately, "Inception" feels like a dream.

It's not just luck or charm, though. The cast is filled with people that could act up a storm while in a coma: DiCaprio, Caine, Hardy, Page, Murphy, Cotillard, Postlethwaite (RIP). The actors have great chemistry and dialogue, as well as the skill to execute it all perfectly...

Every frame is striking, beautiful, and well-composed. If that's your sort of thing, take your eyes off the performers and look at the many locations and rooms. Every set is intricate, fleshed-out like in real life. Pretty pictures!

Hans Zimmer's score is either fun and arresting or over-blown, depending on your tastes. It's both similar and different to Zimmer's work on Nolan's "TDK" and "BB." All three are worth buying, really...

Yet, I suppose, many little parts of this movie depend on your tastes, and what you're willing to give in to. Marion Cotillard appears in another picture with Edith Piaf songs. This movie has too much in common with Leo's "Shutter Island." And there's a scene very much like the end of the original "Solaris;" you'd know it if you liked both. These are elements you can't help but observe, and you are left to decide if it ruins anything for you...

Nice tilt.

In a later post, I'll talk in-depth about different aspects of the movie. It's rich enough to merit that, but I want to try a simple, non-spoiler review. It's bursting with possibilities from, pretty much, the start. The film is a master-class domino set-up.

From any perspective, you get a sense of a complicated layout that starts to tumble in fairly intricate patterns. It's far more complicated than you would think while it's happening in front of you. It's all a spectacle, but there's always something else to be thinking about. It's like watching the dominoes fall and noticing the half-tumbled designs - and the ones to come - all three at the same time.

For a Hollywood blockbuster, this is... highly unlikely, to say the least.

I don't care what happened with its sequels, or the Wachowskis, "The Matrix" was a slap in the face. My jaw dropped, and I was left that way til the end. Some very special pictures - "Immortal Beloved," "12 Monkeys," "Angels & Insects" - did that, at least part of the time. The raw rush of "The Matrix"'s action kept me dazed the whole way through, while my brain was rendered numb with blank speculation. So too with "Inception."

The world created by Chris Nolan is simultaneously familiar and believable - all the crazy and inventive ideas on display are neatly contained within the whole picture. It works within itself, and that helps make it real enough for 2 & 1/2hours. With, like, love and explosions and stuff.

Since I raised the Wachowski specter, I'll say it flat-out: several parts of "Inception" felt a little too versatile. In fact, I partly pretended I was watching the "secret" good sequel to "The Matrix." It certainly felt like its actual successor, and I wouldn't've blinked if Keanu popped up part-way through... So many ideas, scenes, tricks, and execution are things you can find in "TM."

Now, tho, in retrospect, which would you rather have:
a. Joseph Gordon-Levitt's nerdy Arthur races against the clock, scrambling against 5+ bodyguards in a hotel? or
b. a monk-ish Keanu Reeves making big kung-fu gestures in an alley-fight with no real tension or purpose, & the music sounds like a bad Hyundai ad from the 90s.

I realized the Oscars were this weekend, & I had to stop dodging and just write this review. It was a good inspiration, since I'm happy with this review. I don't know what "Inception" will win, but I wanted to publish this while it's still relevant, y'know?

Ultimately, the Academy Awards are kinda full of it, so I have no expectations...  It's all the more true now that 9 movies are up for the big award. And it's particularly true since Aronofsky, the Coens, Fincher, Tom Hooper, and David O. Russell are the only people - 5 people - up for Best Director. Yeah, I know, a "Best Film" with no "Best Director" - I guess the stork dropped off the reels, huh?

In the end, who do we have to thank? Christopher Nolan, a fantastic writer and director. His skill at either should have him in the highest demand; his ability (and track record) with both may well make him legendary. He's certainly on course for it so far.

Best of all, his "voice" is so different from most anyone who gets a major release. He's might be the ultimate modern alt-director. Chris Nolan, if you are an alien, then I hope you take over our planet. Even as we work in your sugar mines to deliver sweet kernels of glucose to our extra-terrestrial overlords, I will cower at night knowing that at least we have superbly-written films.

That's all for now - I'll see you on Friday with more news!

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