July 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Christopher Nolan has to be one of our most ambitious filmmakers. He’s been compared to Kubrick, in his unique visionary approach to films, and his ability to create worlds that every character lives and breathes in, such as “Memento”, and his “Batman” reboot. He’s made some great films, including “The Dark Knight”, and “Following”; he’s also made more gimmicky films that work only as a trick such as “The Prestige”.

With “Inception”, he takes on the world of dreams. Dream sequences have been a part of film for a long time, and sometimes they work and sometimes they won’t. But what if an entire movie is based in a dream (or is it?) state? How do we define reality in that world?

The plot revolves around Dom Cobb (Leonard DiCaprio, in another strong performance) who operates a business of dream-sharing through a machine that he uses for industrial espionage to steal his clients’ ideas and thoughts in their subconscious for his own gain–and he’s caught by his newest client, Saito (Ken Watanabe), who wants to use him for his own purposes and stage a “dream stealing” with a rival business mogul.

What you must do in order to fully accomplish this complex idea of dream-stealing, is have a team of dream operators. A chemist to make the sedative; a forger to impersonate other subconscious characters in the person’s memory in order to fully manipulate the dreamer; and an architect, someone to literally create the dream world.

What Dom suggests in this case, with entering the subconscious of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), is what’s known as “inception”–planting a thought in someone’s mind before they can, but recognizing that it is in fact their own idea. The suggestion is deemed impossible by his Point Man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), but as in any movie–this one JUST MIGHT WORK!

The team runs into issues while they enter the dream world because of an array of “security” (your subconscious trying to protect you from invaders) that can easily kill them–and when you die, you wake up, but in this case they are so heavily sedated that they could wind up in a “limbo” if they were to die in the dream. They go deeper into dream worlds to a point where they’re operating on a third level dream world, and the deeper you go, the slower time goes.

The architect, played by Ellen Page, also notices  a wrinkle in Dom’s plan: he has an unending dream of living with his wife (Marion Cotillard) who has died and he blames himself for her death.

Nolan’s dream worlds are breathtaking. The sequences of the fighting that goes on in one of the hotel corridors in one of the dream worlds is fascinating. Some of the ideas in this film are very interesting, and even at a running time of 148 minutes, the film never drags.

But it also didn’t work for me. I couldn’t buy into the question the film tries to ask (and leaves open) about whether this was all a dream or whether it was reality. Movies that involve dreams can suffer the same kind of problems that movies involving time travel can. You have to create your own rules, which Nolan does, but those rules are based in such a neatly done way that there’s no reason to think that any of the story is real. It’s so deeply based in dreams, and there’s so much logic behind the dream worlds and elements of subconscious that can be manipulated that the “reality” in the film isn’t given enough screen time to be considered credible.

There are a few hints that I think the film gives you that make me lean toward it actually just being a dream. So in my mind, that’s what the film was. It’s an exercise in expanding the subconscious mind and opening it up into this large universe, and existing in it always. So then, what is the point of it? The story is actually quite simple when you strip it down–it’s just about guilt and salvation, ultimately.

The film is, as I’ve said about Nolan, very ambitious. But I don’t think the whole thing works. It has a lot of ideas, and a lot of them are intriguing. But as a film, there aren’t enough stakes, the characters aren’t fleshed out enough, and the plot is actually kind of ridiculous and even somewhat silly. In a film that takes itself and its ideas so seriously, it just comes off as pretentious and stiff rather than enlightening and eye-opening. The one thing that does work in the film is the action; in a way it does work as just that. But because the film wants to be so much more, and seems to want to expand your mind and open all of these questions for you. But it’s just too traditionally told and conventional to match that ambition.

As someone who dreams an awful lot, and has experienced very vivid dreams, I don’t know that I can buy into a reality that someone can “create” a world and actually manipulate it the way that they do in this film; and when you can’t buy into the reality, then it’s really hard to buy into the dream stuff–even though the dream worlds are more convincing and interesting. And that’s where the film ultimately fails for me.

It looks wonderful; but in the end, whether the top is still spinning doesn’t really matter.

My rating: :?

Dark Knight

July 22, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

The last few summers have been laced with superhero movies. We’ve been inundated with your Spidermans, your Supermans, your Iron Mans, and your Hulks…and get ready for the train to keep rolling–”Watchman” (a DIFFERENT kind of superhero story) is coming out next March.

But it seems as though all of those films were leading up to this, the most anticipated superhero flick possibly in the history of film mainly because of one tragic fact: one of the cast members ultimately died from the intensity of his role. Guess who? Answer at the end of the show. Yes, we all know the ill-fated Heath Ledger will cast a tragic cloud over this film, which is a pity. But on a positive side, he provides the most ambitious and outstanding role of his career, as the Joker. Nicholson, tip your cap.

Now how about the film? Well, with the hype surrounding pretty much every film this summer, this one certainly took the cake. But finally we have one that lived up to it. “The Dark Knight” is a movie that deserves to be recognized as more than just a comic book movie, but as a great narrative about being a hero, the glory AND the tragedy. What you have to sacrifice, which is what “The Dark Knight” surrounds itself with in theme. Everyone has a price to pay.

Everyone, that is, but the Joker. The Joker, comic book’s most devilish anarchist with no real regard for human life (not even his own), used to be more stylized and powerful (Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s “Batman”). But in this case, Christopher Nolan offers a more stripped down, and homicidal maniac version of the Joker. The kind of Joker that Frank Miller and Alan Moore envisioned decades ago. This kind of Joker is the scariest type of villain because he doesn’t want or need anything. As one character in the film says about these kind of people, “They just want to watch the world burn.”

The film looks and feels as big as it was advertised, and there are some absolutely breathtaking sequences involving our beloved city. The storyline of the film is just as big, but not over the top and awkward the way “Spiderman 3? was (could we really follow all those plot lines?). Here, Nolan , his brother, and co-writer David S. Goyer (”Blade”, “Dark City”) paint a masterpiece of narrative, involving very credible subplots that include Bruce Wayne’s former squeeze and the always likable Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent. Wayne’s own personal demons are understandably pushed aside as most of his woes have been covered brilliantly in “Batman Begins”–and we finally really see the actual Batman emerge as a prominent character rather than just a cool looking dude in a suit who beats up bad guys. Batman has to sacrifice as well, to be a hero.

There are not too many scenes in which you can relax–there is so much action going on that it sometimes feels like a roller coaster. But there is never a moment where the story is betraying your intellect, nor is there a point where you feel like the filmmakers are just showing off their big budget special effects. It is easily the fastest two and a half hours I’ve spent in a theatre.

Ledger will most likely get an Oscar nomination out of this, and I think that’s a bit cynical now. It’s not Hollywood’s fault that he wouldn’t be around for the award ceremony but it is part of an institution that he obviously couldn’t handle. I’ve seen actors play much more intense roles and LIVE (think of his co-star, Christian Bale, in “The Machinist”). However, he does realistically deserve consideration. His part in the film is probably the most rewarding; he’s not only maniacal and pathetic and skin-crawlingly creepy–he’s also hilarious and he’s a total scene stealer.

But in all honesty, this film deserves at least a Best Screenplay nomination. It’s simply one of the best written films I’ve seen from a big studio in quite a while. It’s a shame this will be only noted as “the best comic book film of all time”, which would be an appropriate annotation, because it’s so much more than that. It looks deep into the human soul, and wretches out the best and worst of us all.

And I haven’t even gotten into Harvey Dent’s story. But you know, I think it’s important not to give too much away. But let’s say his isn’t disappointing whatsoever. And ultimately, lends more to the theme as well. Consider his name, “Two Face” Harvey Dent, and how the two faces of a coin, and two sides of a story, good and evil are two sides–you get the picture.

This is what big blockbusters are meant to do. Deliver and go beyond. Unlike “Hancock” and “The Incredible Hulk” which still relied on style and aesthetics rather than a deep narrative, “The Dark Knight” gave us what we were looking for.

And that’s heroic.

My rating: :grin:

Family value: Unless your boys are over the age of 12 and/or can handle some intense moments, I would say skip this and take them to see “Get Smart”. Use discretion. But treat yourself to it!