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Million Dollar Movie

Inception is the “It” movie of the summer but I don’t have much interest in seeing it. Which isn’t to say I won’t, but it’s not the kind of movie that gets me excited–complicated science fiction mystery, dreams within dreams…M’eh. Just makes me shrug my shoulders.

Hey, when is Leo DiCaprio ever going to make a comedy?

Still, I’ve heard some wonderful things about Inception–that it contains some stunning material. I’ve also heard that it isn’t all that after all. Which pretty much sums up the critical reaction. Strong in both directions.

Here’s a piece in the Times that covers the range of opinions…and dig Roger Ebert’s take as well.

Categories:  Bronx Banter  Million Dollar Movie

Tags:  inception  roger ebert

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1 Matt Blankman   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:29 am

I saw it last night - it's clearly the water-cooler and cocktail party movie of this summer and I was beginning to get tired of being left out of the conversation.

For me, it was neither great nor awful. It's a worthwhile diversion, a quick-moving 2 1/2 hrs with a fine cast doing their best. Yes, some of the visual effects are stunning and I also appreciate the meticulous clockwork of Nolan's script. I'm sure it took dozens upon dozens of drafts before it got to the screen.

My biggest beef with the film is that for a film that takes place largely within dreams, the dreams aren't very dream-like. I think Nolan is too precise and mechanical minded a film maker to capture the elusive, fluid, surreal nature of dreams. Bunuel did it, so did Hitchcock (with a big assist from Dali).

I'm sure if you're in college and high, this is the mind-blower of the year.

2 Paul   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:31 am

Did you see Memento? Where that movie gave the audience the sensation of short-term memory loss as a window into memory itself, Inception gives the audience the sensation of dreaming as a window into the Cartesian dilemma itself. FWIW, I also thought Insomina was a window into how critical sleep for our mental faculties. That one was much harder to execute, but I thought Nolan did an admirable job. I felt the fog of confusion that comes with a few all-nighters. Now, with Inception, he took a much more difficult base premise and hit that higher bar with amazing effects. My wife and I walked out of Inception and both remarked how it felt like we were dreaming and without physics to bind us. It's worth seeing on the big screen for that experience alone. And no faddish is 3D required or even available.

Of course, critics universally loved Toy Story 3 so it shows how reliable they are as a collective. I mean, that was a fine movie, but it was completely recycled albeit with a tweak to the story. The Times piece nails the hipster quality to the criticism of Inception. It became cool to knock it even before it was out. Sure, the story is difficult, but that's the point! Who remembers the contents of a dream as a nice, neat, tidy package? The biggest complaint among critics is the complexity of the story. Well, I bet those curmudgeons would tell their kids that the dream (or nightmare) they just had wasn't "real" so "Go back to bed."

Inception, like Memento, requires a repeat viewing to "understand". But you only need to watch it once to experience it. Here the challenge for critics, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. What are some great films that tackle the dream vs. reality divide?

3 bp1   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:32 am

I am not a big Leo fan. With just a few exceptions, I don't think he is very believable in his characters. You never get that escapism you want from a good movie performance where the actor is replaced onscreen by his character.

He acts too hard, if that makes sense. Like Tom Cruise sometimes. It jumps off the screen like a big red flashing like "he's really acting now!!". Ugh.

4 Matt Blankman   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:36 am

[3] I used to feel that way about Leo, but with Catch Me If You Can and The Aviator, I began to see him differently. I think he's very much a movie star and one who can act as well. I thought he pulled off a tricky part in Shutter Island. I found him a little less convincing in Inception, but I think some of that is the difference between Nolan and Scorsese. Nolan doesn't make enough of the emotional components of the story.

As for Cruise, you nailed it - although I find he can be very good when paired with a strong director (i.e. Kubrick, Spielberg), who can rein in his "I AM ACTING!" histrionics.

5 The Hawk   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:39 am

I really want to see this. Perhaps this week.

I like all of Nolan's movies to one degree or another ... I never saw Insomnia though ... Loved the original, didn't see the point, really.

6 Paul   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:42 am

"My biggest beef with the film is that for a film that takes place largely within dreams, the dreams aren’t very dream-like."

Yeah, I'm not sure how you can hit that bar and still have a watchable movie, especially one 2.5 hours long. Shoot, Mullholland Drive was widely loved by critics but it's a pretty unwatchable movie. Its plot was completely incoherent.

My "beef" with Inception is the emphasis on rules for the dreams but then the rules are steadily violated. But again, I think that's the point. When I dream I come up with explanations...until the next event completely negates the explanation.

Sorry, hipster critics, but you're trying too hard.

7 Paul   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:44 am

[4] Yeah, Catch Me if you Can completely changed my view of Leo. But by then I had forgotten Gilbert Grape and the Basketball Diaries. Dude's legit.

[3] One criticism of him for Inception is he's probably a bit too restrained.

8 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:54 am

7) I liked him in Catch Me too. Thought he was overrated as hell in Gilbert Grape, which used to be the movie people held up as proof that he could act. I think he's a good leading man whose choice of material is boring.

9 Matt Blankman   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:57 am

[6] Gotta disagree about Mulholland Drive - I run hot and cold on Lynch (Lost Highway was a completely unwatchable turd), but I did enjoy Mulholland Drive.

Also, you didn't really negate my point - this is why I find Nolan an odd writer/director for a project about dreams. Give me The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie any day.

Also, I don't think not liking Inception makes you a contrarian hipster - that was part of the point of Scott's NYT piece. Here at work, I spoke to a couple people who loved it and another who couldn't STAND it, all of whom are intelligent folks.

10 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:59 am

I really enjoy Leo, early on he tended to overdo it a bit but I think he began to turn the corner with The Aviator. I think as movie fans we're very fortunate that he wasn't completely swallowed up by The Machine by the time he was 21 and we now have years of his work to look forward to.

Who woulda thought that those 14 year old girls going to see Titanic for the 300th time in '97 we're actually onto something?

As for the movie, I neither loved nor hated it. I did think it was an extremely solid Summer movie, completely enjoyable and had nothing to apologize for. Its not as brilliant as its biggest boosters are going to try to convince you it is, but it also isn't a steaming pile of junk like the inevitable backlash will label it.

11 Matt Blankman   ~  Jul 26, 2010 10:59 am

[8] Really? Shutter Island is a boring choice? I know you don't like latter-day Marty, but I wouldn't call their collaborations boring choices. I would say DiCaprio's choices in projects are much bolder than similar stars. Now, if you mean because he doesn't seem to be pushing his range or leaving his "conflicted anti-hero" happy space - then yes, I would agree. You're dead on that the guy should try a comedy or two, or even a straight up romance flick.

12 Paul   ~  Jul 26, 2010 11:22 am

[8] Yeah, I'm also conflicted about the use of "boring". The Departed wasn't fantastic but I certainly didn't find it boring.

It's a fine point on Gilbert, but considering the talent in that movie, he more than held his own, no? And he was the best of the major players in The Departed, no? I mean Wahlberg and Damon were fine (while Jack vamped) but isn't that rightly Leo's movie? That tells me something.

[9] I have a tendency to generalize when I disagree. Sorry about that. Mulholland Drive is watchable in parts, but as a whole it just seemed to me to be Lynch kissing himself in the mirror. But my point there was more about the critics. Since Mulholland didn't reek of commercial success, they were free to praise the artistic vision. Yes, as Scott notes, it's perfectly fine to feel conflicted about the movie. But considering that Toy Story 3 is the top reviewed major movie of 2010, I don't know how much weight I should put on the reviews.

What's interesting to me is both Inception and Mulholland Drive were 2.5 hours long. But there's no question which one I'd rather watch again and again. Of course, Nolan made his for a wider audience - he had to given the vision and the budget.

13 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 26, 2010 11:39 am

Okay, boring to me. Yeah, horror movies with Marty is boring. But that's just me.

14 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 26, 2010 11:52 am

Leo was 18 when he made Gilbert Grape, thats a pretty damn good performance for an 18 year old. If anything I think he regressed a bit in the immediate aftermath. I think Basketball Diaries is a POS (this mostly falls on Jim Carrol, who I find to be woefully overrated) and Marvin's Room should have been much better than it ended up being.

He really came into his own in The Departed I think. It is by no stretch a "Great Film," but it IS a good film with a great cast. Jack was more or less on autopilot, but he more than held his own against Sheen and Wahlberg and (I think) blew Damon away.

Shutter Island was really just a b-movie taken to a higher level. Its not going to go right on the top of Leo or Marty's resume, but they had fun with it and made an enjoyable enough noir.

15 Chyll Will   ~  Jul 26, 2010 1:28 pm

Alex, i agree with Matt on this one. To me, it's a movie that was meant to be seen in the movie theater, yet it plays so minutely that you can get lost halfway through, but still come out feeling like it was worth watching. My roommate and I drove to our favorite multiplex in Fishkill to catch the matinee; not too many people watching which by the end of the film I regretted because there were moments where I felt charged (Nolan is big on music score in his movies, it seems) and wanted to clap, but then I would end up looking like Charles Foster Kane at the opera house. I don't think it would play as big on TV, unless you had a big screen.

I did also come away thinking Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be the next big breakout star, especially if he lands the role of The Riddler in the next Batman film (or perhaps in a Spiderman reboot?)

I took issue with the relationship between Leo and his wife in the film; without giving too much away I thought it did not have the depth it implied, nor did I think the resolution was believable. Still, the main performances were creditable, but Tom Berenger needs to lose some serious weight; he seemed too tired to act sometimes. All-in-all, you won't feel like you wasted your time in the end, but there was more restraint than there needed to be at times, which in turn made the movie seem longer than it needed to be. I would have liked to have seen them make some more interesting choices in certain scenes, but it was a good film to base further collaboration of Christopher Nolan and Leo on.

My roommate said "Manchurian Candidate with Citizen Kane and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind",.. to me, maybe a B+ to A- attempt at all three.

16 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 26, 2010 1:31 pm

I thought "Eternal Sunshine" was a thoroughly unpleasent experience, a movie I'd never return to again.

17 The Hawk   ~  Jul 26, 2010 1:44 pm

I want to buy DiCaprio more than I've ever really been able to. Like Keanu Reeves, he just lacks a depth to his voice; for whatever reason this is often a deal-breaker.

I actually just saw Shutter Island the other day. It was better than I expected. What I liked about it was Scorcese seemed to really put a huge stamp on it. I haven't read the novel so I can't say for sure but that was my impression.

The main thing I'm thinking of was the trippy vibe to it ***spoiler*** - never before have I seen a movie so telegraph its twist. I interpreted that as Scorcese looking beyond it, which is smart. Of course by the time the movie gets to the end, the air is kind of let out anyway, but not as much as it would have been had it been set up as the rug-pull I imagine was originally intended.

[16] Wow I loved that movie.

18 Chyll Will   ~  Jul 26, 2010 1:51 pm

[16] Michel Gondry doesn't translate as well to Hollywood-type features as much as he does to music videos and shorts. I'd love to see what he does with a Pixar short; that would be bizarre. But yeah, I can see where either you really loved it or you really hated it. I only watched it once; it would immediately lose its sense of discovery if you watched it again.

19 YankeeAbby   ~  Jul 26, 2010 2:03 pm


...saw that one as well...there's 2 hours of my life I'll never get back! >:-/

20 YankeeAbby   ~  Jul 26, 2010 2:05 pm

Lost Highway, that is!

21 Paul   ~  Jul 26, 2010 3:19 pm

"I took issue with the relationship between Leo and his wife in the film; without giving too much away I thought it did not have the depth it implied, nor did I think the resolution was believable. "

Who's to say either was *meant* to be believeable? ;)

22 Chyll Will   ~  Jul 26, 2010 3:40 pm

[21] Heh. But even if you accepted it in the dream sense, it still was hardly plausible from an objective point of view, which we were forced into. If we were looking through his eyes, then maybe it would be acceptable, but we weren't.

23 Yankster   ~  Jul 26, 2010 5:52 pm

Inception felt contrived, but maybe I missed the memo. The tension didn't feel tense. The unexpected violence was completely predictable - I couldn't suspend disbelief. The Cartesian dilemma wasn't there because everyone could distinguish between sleep and wake (eventually) (this is not plot pivotal, which it should have been). There was no magic between de caprio and ellen page (who I happen to like). Her constant desire to follow him deeper to protect him isn't motivated in the movie. Finally, the images felt intentionally flat which didn't work for me at all. I admire the films creation but as a narrative I didn't find it absorbing at all. Not that anyone asked...

24 Matt Blankman   ~  Jul 26, 2010 6:36 pm

[15] Check out Gordon-Levitt in "The Lookout" and "Brick." He's got chops. I hope he finds the right projects.

One thing about Inception that no one has brought up here is how thoroughly pleasing it is to watch Marion Cotillard. Hubba hubba.

Also, there are not many actors in the history of cinema who can make an entire movie theater happy just by showing up on screen like Michael Caine.

25 Matt Blankman   ~  Jul 26, 2010 6:37 pm

[13] A horror movie? Nah. It actually puts Leo through a really tough emotional journey, with a lot more feeling and depth than I found in Nolan's film.

26 Alex Belth   ~  Jul 26, 2010 9:00 pm

25) Well, I'll shut up until I see it. Otherwise, I'm just talking shit. Now, if we really want to talk about shit, how about Marty's Cape Fear remake?

27 Matt Blankman   ~  Jul 26, 2010 9:18 pm

[26] Al, buddy...why is it you always find excuses to throw eggs at Scorsese? I'm not a Cape Fear fan (though that DeNiro-Lewis scene on the school stage is great), but where did that come from?

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