July 29, 2010

I'm Still Thinking About INCEPTION

Compare Leo DiCaprio in Inception and Robert Redford in The Sting:

His ulterior motive for bringing down The Mark (Cillian Murphy):
  • Cobb: Redemption for wife's death
  • Hooker: Revenge for partner's murder

He convinces The Mark to work with him to bring down a rival:
  • Cobb convinces Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to take down Browning (Tom Berenger)
  • Hooker convinces Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) to take down Gondorff (Paul Newman)
He keeps a secret from his associates which threatens whole sting:
  • Cobb's dead wife haunts his subconscious
  • Hooker haunted by vindictive cop
He refuses his share of the take:
  • Cobb promises his whole share to the Chemist, Yusuf
  • Hooker declines to accept his share: "I'd just blow it."

My favorite Inception joke so far, from Savage Chickens

July 27, 2010

Guys Movie Night: Inception

Maybe it's because I barely made it to the theater in time.
Maybe because I was famished.
Maybe my full bladder is to blame.
The summer movie I had the highest hopes for did NOT blow me away.
Inception was really good, yes. A expertly crafted, thoughtful, intelligent movie which is about something. The rare non-sequel, non-comic-book, non-animated summer movie. But I did not receive the emotional whallop, or even the visceral "whoa" I was anticipating.
Leonardo DiCaprio is Cobb, the leader of a team of con men. Instead of stealing money from their mark, they steal ideas by playing the mark within his own subconscious, where he's more vulnerable.
Entering an individual's dreams is a lot like The Matrix: you lie down, plug into a magic box, and BOOM, you're in the land of special effects. In order to escape, there's no pay phones to help you; you have to either die in the dream, or your sleeping body (back in the real world) needs a "kick" to jolt you awake.
Cobb risks everything on "one last score", the classic "it can't be done" scenario: their client needs them to plant an idea in the mark's mind, instead of stealing one. There are no secrets in the dreamer's mind: that's why the team is there. When you insert yourself into the land of the subconscious, your secrets come with you. Cobb's dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) haunts him and threatens them all.
The cast was excellent all around. I have a lot of respect for DiCaprio, even if I want him to shave off that 2-day goatee.
Ellen Page is the novice who discovers Cobb's secret and to whom the workings of the dream world is explained. She's a solid presence in this movie, and a purely dramatic, non-ironic role too.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Cobb's right-hand man, trying to keep Cobb rational. It's a pretty thankless role, until his showpiece weightless fight scenes.
Apparently, I have seen Tom Hardy in several movies (Marie Antoinette, Layer Cake, Star Trek: Nemesis) but I have no memory of him. I was riveted by his cocky, mouthy "forger", who skirts the edge of loyalty with his willful aggressiveness.
Director Christopher Nolan is a master at multi-layer, puzzle box movies which eschew linear narrative.  Memento's plot is in reverse. The Prestige includes flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks. Inception's epic second half is the big con, with four adventures happening at once: The chemist is in a car chase, Cobb's right-hand man fights henchmen while floating down a zero-gee corridor, the Forger battles phantom soldiers on skis, and Cobb confronts his own obsessive guilt over his wife's death. These four adventures are happening in four nested dream-worlds, with each character asleep in the world "above". When the sleeper's environment is disturbed (rain, or music, or riding aboard an Econoline van during a gun battle), the sensory input bleeds into the dream. In Memento and The Prestige, the structure perfectly serves the themes of the movie, but with Inception, the structure is still supremely clever, organic, and perfectly executed, but doesn't purely enhance the theme of the film in the same way.
Nolan and his cast make a strong effort to make the doomed love story the core of the movie, but it just didn't resonate with me. Perhaps it's because we never see Cobb's and his wife truly in love, except for brief, shallow glimpses. Mal's "character" in the movie is a femme fatale, comprised of walking and talking memories from Cobb's mind, or flashbacks of their life together, which amounts to the same thing. We don't get much of a chance to see the real woman, and we see a lot of Cobb's guilt over her death incarnated in Mal, so it's hard to feel loss for a "woman" who scares the shit out of the audience repeatedly.
I was a little distracted by some references to the cast and their previous movies:
  • Cillian Murphy: Wears a bag on his head, like his Scarecrow
  • Ken Wantanabe: In one of the dreams, he's crushed by a beam falling from the ceiling, like Ras Al Guhl in Batman Begins
  • Marion Cotillard: Edith Piaf music is prominently featured; Cotillard won an Oscar playing Piaf
  • Leonardo DiCaprio: Washes up on a beach like Jack Dawson in Titanic 2: Never Let Me Go (okay I made that one up)
The first two I found actively distracting, the third might have bothered me if I had known it was Piaf on the soundtrack. Speaking of the soundtrack, Hans Zimmer's score (loud, brassy, single notes, sustained for 15 seconds each) was a little too reminiscent of his Dark Knight score.
    And for those of you who are angry or stressed about the final scene of the movie, all I will say is, a note of ambiguity is necessary in a movie where we never know for sure what reality is, and if the movie had resolved with a purely decisive happy ending, it would have felt pat and fake.Nolan has made two highly profitable Batman movies for Warner Bros. He's earned the right to make a complex, dark meditation on death, dreams, and the subconscious. It didn't hit me in the gut: I'm giving Inception a B-plus, but I may give the movie another chance. I paid $11.50 the first time, will I do it again? With Jon, Jack, Jeff, and Marc, at Regal Cinemas Stadium 13 (Screen 13)

    Also By Chris Nolan on Stub Hubby

    July 16, 2010

    Despicable Me

    A terrific comedy for adults and kids, Despicable Me is about a single dad balancing work and parenting, OR, if you're not interested in subtext, an awesome roller-coaster of physical gags, flying through space, and little "corn nuts" (see photo) whacking each other over the head.

    The premise is an inversion of your typical children's tale: What if the orphaned children are adopted by the villain instead of the hero? Gru is an old-school Dr. Evil-style "blackmail the world" type villain who is struggling at work. Kind of like Steve Martin in Parenthood, he hasn't noticed that he's slowed down in his middle age: He can't keep up with the new generation of villains who are faster, younger, and hungrier for world domination. Gru travels from one nefarious scheme to another in a chrome-plated, rivet-hulled, rocket-powered hair dryer. Meanwhile, nipping at his heels, is Vector, an overeager puppy of a villain, stealing his thunder in a sleek, white & orange vibrator designed by Apple.
    In order to pull off his latest heist, Gru adopts three orphan girls, who make an adorable wreck of his ambitions, while leading him to discover that it's better to be the hero to three little girls than the archenemy to the whole world. As a new dad (our son is eight months old) I got a little teary while Gru was saving the girls' lives during the classic "tightrope between two planes" bit. *I* want to be a hero to my son like Gru was to his daughters in that moment. Obviously I am not looking forward to my boy being abducted by my archenemy, so I can then save him (obviously!), but, I like to think I would walk out on the wing of my superjet to save his life.
    My wife and I really appreciated the universality of the movie. I read somewhere that this was a mostly French production, and we noticed the anytime, anyplace nature of the movie. There were almost no pop culture jokes or topical humor. No "inside Hollywood" jokes. No "wisecracking" Borscht belt characters (see: the Donkey in Shrek; Timon in The Lion King.) Most of the fun comes from the "corn nuts" (thanks George): Gur's "Minions" are little yellow worker bees in overalls and goggles who populate Gru's evil underground lair.
    The animation had that slick Pixar style, but unlike Pixar, a minimum of show-offy effects which Pixar compulsively includes. We also appreciated that the three orphans were characterized so well with ZERO maudlin saccharine backstory. I have not seen Toy Story 3 yet, but many Pixar movies have a soft spot of treacly tear-jerking moments; Despicable Me keeps he sob-inducing moments to a minimum.
    I can't think of anything wrong with this movie- I found the disco dance-off at the end a little underwhelming? The theater was about half child-free couples and half kids; the kids loved the movie, and, speaking for the adults, I gotta give Despicable Me an "A" grade. It's not in the Hall of Fame or anything, but it does its job perfectly well, with laughs, style, grace, and humanity.
    (Belmont Studio Cinema "in glorious 2D")

    July 8, 2010

    More Fun on Theater Marquees

    Spotted in 2011
    Spotted on a theater marquee this week:

    The marquee of the Lexington Flick last summer:

    At the AMC Burlington in 2005:


    Landmark Embassy Cinema Waltham in 2011:

    ALSO: The web site Unreality has a great photo gallery of movie marquee mischief.

    April 9, 2012: for Guys Movie Night we go see WRATH OF THE TIT:
    Angus "We only got to see one of them; next time let's go for the double feature"
    Jose "Should've gone 3D if we knew that was showing"
    Jed "Uhhh...That's pretty cool Beavis!"

    July 3, 2010

    Knight and Day

    A very well crafted action-comedy, perfectly designed to fufill expectations and satisfy crowds around the world, only a jaded cynic like me can admire Knight and Day. It's entertaining, sure, but it pains me to like a movie so clinically designed to make money.

    Cruise is a rogue secret agent who takes Cameron Diaz with him on his adventures, when she becomes entangled in his "keep the MacGuffin away from the bad guys" mission. Diaz is great in these roles, being funny and mostly incompetent while preserving her self-respect.

    The movie is full of taut, gripping, mildly innovative action sequences. Early scenes take place in Boston, and I found them convincing. I could not say where every scene was supposed to take place in the Hub, but it sure felt like Boston. The remainder of the movie takes place in Europe, (including a motorcycle chase amongst the Spanish bull run), which improves its overseas marketability.

    The only aspect of the movie which does not work is the so-called "romantic" parts. I think we're supposed to believe that Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise's characters feel some kind of romantic, or at least sexual feelings for each other. The problem is, Tom Cruise's acting has become so stunted, that he exudes all the sexual energy of a washing machine or blender. He looks deeply into Diaz' eyes, and they stand close to each other, so I assume there's supposed to be lust of some kind occuring. There's even a squirm-inducing scene where we learn that Cruise changed Diaz out of her clothes and into a bikini while she was unconscious. He awkwardly excuses himself by pointing out that "I can reassemble a machine gun with my eyes closed, I can get you into a bikini without looking." Well, that's troubling for two reasons. One, isn't stripping a woman naked with your eyes closed still, erm, sexy? And second, Cruise is so non-sexual these days, I didn't believe for a second that he would actually enjoy it. As I pointed out in my review of Valkyrie last year, Cruise "has devolved to the point where the only emotion he's capable of is single-minded determined certainty." He's a technically perfect action hero, I could watch him run and jump all day, but when he tries to put on the lovey-dovey eyes, he's as convincing as a puppy.

    By the end of the movie, they ride off into the sunset together, but it felt more like a brother and sister on a road trip than anything romantic.

    It's easy to get distracted by the "faux-mance", but the rest of the movie was a fun night out. My grade = B-minus.