Posts Tagged ‘leonardo dicaprio

26
Jul
10

Does ‘Inception’ Make Nolan the New Morpheus

A heist movie of the subconscious.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joesph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine. Directed by Christopher Nolan

A heist movie. A psychological thriller. One-hundred percent Christopher Nolan.

I’m going to be as unbiased as I can possibly be in reviewing this one. I’ve been a fan of Nolan’s work since “Memento,” (having watched it in theaters at least three times) and count him as one of the best current filmmakers, if not one of the best of all time. He is the psychological storytelling of Alfred Hitchcock mixed with the technical side of Ridley Scott.

What is “Inception?” That’s been the big question on everyone’s minds as the trailers haven’t shown or given away much. The truth is: they can’t. Explaining this film in under five minutes is like saying “Memento” is about a guy with memory problems or “The Prestige” is about two magicians trying to outdo the other. Yes, both quips are technically correct but lack the gravitas of what the films are truly about.

Leo DiCaprio is Dom Cobb, a man living on the edge of heightened paranoia and concern. What he does isn’t exactly legal -breaking into the thoughts and dreams of other individuals to steal their secrets- all the meanwhile trying to evade the Cobalt Group (for a job that apparently went wrong) and U.S. authorities for skipping country because of a misunderstanding in the regards to the death of his wife Mal (Cotillard). He’s caught between running from reality and the sadomasochism of his dream world where he returns repeatedly to the memories of being with his wife, their times together, her death, etc.

The “forward chronology” of the movie starts in what appears to be a dream -Saito (Watanabe) is holding something secret and Cobb and the gang have to extract his secret. Easier said than done. Cobb is able to retrieve the secret but not before Mal, the thorn inside his dream world, causes problems for him. Cobb then returns to an apartment where his team and Saito are at and Saito is not impressed until he finds that they’re in yet another dream. Cobb and Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) try getting out of Tokyo but not before Saito proposes a job: he wants the heir of an electrical conglomerate Robert Fischer, Jr. (Murphy) to disband the company en whole.

Therein lies the challenge: not extraction, but the inception of an idea. To make the guy whose head you’re inside BELIEVE that he came up with the idea himself. Arthur contends that it’s just not possible but Cobb believes, on the border of knowing, that it CAN be done. And the prize? Saito is powerful enough to get Cobb waived through immigration so he can see his children James and Phillipa again who are staying with his in-laws.

Speaking of which, he travels to Paris to meet with his father-in-law Miles (Caine) who taught him everything he knows about controlling dreams except for the heist business. Dom pleads for help for the quintessential “one last job”: he needs an architect, someone who can help design a dream world. He’s introduced to Ariadne (Page), who gets interested/addicted to the idea of building dream worlds on a larger scale and joins the team.

Rounding out the rest of the crew is the “chemist” Yusuf (Dileep Rao), the information/research/impersonator Eames (Tom Hardy), and “tourist” Saito. The chemist has a drug that will prolong the dream state, Eames does covert intel on the guy, and Saito is just there to watch it happen (or help make it happen). They conceive the idea of a three-layer dream to get into Fischer’s head and give him the idea that his father (Pete Postelthwaite) doesn’t want him following in his shoes and should disband the entire company. When Fischer’s father passes they have the perfect window of opprotunity – ten hours – to pull it off. Mission: Psychological is on…

But not without a few snags. Remember Mal? When everyone is dreaming there’s a shared state of consciousness and she often appears at inopportune moments causing a debilitating state for Dom. If that’s not enough Fischer has military “projections” (filler people in the dream world). Seems that bit of intel escaped Eames. Trouble comes in threes and after Saito is shot time is shortened and the stakes run high. Will Dom and company be able to plant the idea in the guy’s head? Will they even get to that point? Will Mal screw everything up? Will Cobb see his children again? Will any of them survive? And so forth.

I loved the movie. It begins like a dream – you don’t know where it really begins or why – and it ends on a note that makes you question all that you just watched. It’s smart, the cinematography (especially for the hallway fight scene) is great, and it’s one-hundred percent story. The camera becomes an invisible person of sorts and you’re strapped into your chair for the ride.

Some critics have hailed “Inception” as Nolan’s magnum opus. Roger Ebert cited that Nolan had been working on the script/story for ten years. I’m in agreement. Film students watching Nolan’s work could cite many of the themes in this movie are carried over from previous ones: the guy so in love with his wife that he cannot forget her (“Memento”), a father dying and his son having to come to terms not only with the death but of becoming heir to a giant corporation (“Batman Begins”), a man who will grow old and probably die alone (“Insomnia”) and being reunited with children (“The Prestige”). “Inception” takes all of these, and maybe a few more, and rolls them into one cinematic pill to swallow.

Nolan once talked about “Memento” saying that as the life of Leonard Shelby unraveled, so did his conscience while he was making the film. It makes you ask how you remember what you remember. “Inception” asks not only about memories but of the stuff we make up, whether it’s to set us free or imprison, and how do we deal with what’s going on. Dreams are more than our escape.

Not only did Nolan take some of his best tricks and throw them in, but his cast and crew are some he’s worked with before. Ken Watanabe was in “Batman Begins,” Cillian Murphy was in both, and Michael Caine has been in every Nolan film since “Batman Begins.”

Will the movie payoff in the long run? I would like to say yes but it’s a hard sell: a heist movie/ psychological thriller. It’s more intellectual than, say, “Inside Man.” The beginning is a bit slow and detached but once you’re into the movie you’re with every frame until the very end. As for the end itself there is no clear answer as to what really happens, but I have my theories.

My grade: A

If you’re interested in hardboiled thriller, check out the blog story “The Big Adios” at:

http://aidencobb.blogspot.com


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03
Mar
10

Marty’s Take on Hitch has Mixed Results

Please Observe “Andrea’s Law.”

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, and Michelle Williams. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Based on the book by Dennis Lehane

Ask any film aficionado about Scorsese and they’ll talk about “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “Gangs of New York,” and “The Departed.” He’s known for biographical movies (“Goodfellas,” “Raging Bull,” “The Aviator”) as well as music-related ones (“Shine a Light,” “No Direction Home,” “The Last Waltz”) Scorsese is a legendary filmmaker who has carved out a niche for himself with his gritty portrayals of gangsters, made men, New York, Boston, and any and all points in-between that the criminal underbelly has a piece of but for all his glory he’s not exempt from making a few forgettable films (“Bringing Out the Dead”). “Shutter Island” will wind up in that pile.

And it’s not that I’m against any director trying to artistically grow or evolve within their medium. On the contrary, I fully support that. The problem here is that Scorsese is making a film that competes in the genre of mystery/suspense/thriller that already has a legendary king (Alfred Hitchcock) and it’s not so much that he can’t go for the crown but truth be told, there are better contenders. Brad Anderson (“Session 9,” “The Machinist,” “Transsiberian”) and Christopher Nolan (“Insomnia,” “Memento,” “The Prestige”) are both examples of filmmakers who are masters of the genre. I can appreciate Scorsese’s entry into it and while he is better than, say, M. Night Shamma-Lamma-Ding-Dong, he’s still a far cry from the two mentioned above.

Andrea’s Law of Island Watching: any movie title including the word “island” is suspicious. Only TV show titles can get away with this. E.g. “Fantasy Island”.

“Shutter Island” is the third movie to be based on a Dennis Lehane novel (“Mystic River,” and “Gone Baby Gone” being the other two) and stars Leonardo DiCapro as the main protagonist, Federal Marshal Ted Daniels. When the movie begins it’s 1954 and Daniels is seasick on a long ferry ride to Ashecliffe Hospital, a mental institution located on an island which houses an old Civil War fort. Daniels has a new partner, Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), who contends that Ted is “legendary.” Ted gives Chuck the lowdown.

A woman named Rachel Soledad disappeared –literally vanished- from her cell. No one knows what happened and the Feds were contacted. Daniels picked up the assignment. Soledad is “dangerous” because she murdered her three children by drowning them in a lake. The police found her in her home with the three children sitting around the table as she was eating. Yeah, bizarre.

Ted and Chuck get to the island and have to surrender their firearms before getting the five-cent tour. Guys in Wing A, girls in Wing B, and the most dangerous of all are in Wing C, the old fort building complete with electric fence and lighthouse. They’re introduced to Dr. Cawley (Kingsley) who professes to want to “help” people over giving them pills, electroshock therapy, or lobotomies. Later that night they meet the other head doctor Naehring (Sydow). Deep inside, Daniels is steaming.

As it all progresses, we learn more about Ted Daniels. He was a soldier in World War II and was there when they captured the Dachau concentration camp. He watched as the Commandant died on the floor from a suicide attempt made slow by screwing-up. He helped to line-up Germans at the camp and mass execute them. Upon returning home he began drinking and distanced his wife (Williams). She died from smoke inhalation when an arsonist named Laeddis set their place on fire. These are the facts as he, and we, know them.

But strange things are afoot at the Ashecliffe Hospital. Ted and Chuck try interviewing the orderlies and no one knows how Rachel escaped; Ted feels that she had to have help. During an interview with one of the patients she grabs his notebook and scrawls RUN. He knows that something’s up and believes that everyone’ story has been coached. Cawley won’t give up personnel records. After finding a scrap of paper that says “The Rule of 4” and “Who is 67?” Ted wants to get back to the mainland and file his report that his investigation has been impeded.

But wait. A hurricane hits the island and everything goes haywire. Ted begins to see visions of his dead wife who instructs him as to what to do. He also has migraine headaches. Chuck and him go to check out Wing C where he runs into George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley) who tells him that he’s a “rat in a maze” and not to pay attention to the visions of his dead wife. Making their way back to the main building they find out that Rachel has returned to her cell. Case closed… or is it? The world around Ted Daniels begins to unravel as he questions himself, his sanity, the visions, and even his new partner as he investigates the disappearance of Rachel Soledad and what it means while he tries to “blow the top off” what’s going on at Ashecliffe Hospital.

While the trailer for the movie exhibited signs of being “horrifying,” “creepy,” or even “scary,” the film is more about tension and surreality. The film starts off like it’s of the “haunted house/DON’T GO IN THERE” genre; you know, the formula where the movie protagonists go against clear, common sense logic and enter the realm of evil with no guarantee of return of return. By the end of the film it’s more of an “Eyes Wide Shut”/”this is all for your psychological benefit”-thing.

I’m not going to give away the ending of the film directly (although I kinda already have) but I will say that Scorsese does present the truth of what happened not in montage, but in the full sequence so I will give kudos for that. DiCaprio and everyone involved do well enough with what they’re given but surreal filmmaking is –again- not Scorsese’s strongpoint. As for trying to be like Hitchcock… well, Scorsese can build-up the suspense and action but there’s something lost in the translation.

The film sits at “okay.” Not great and nothing I would go watch again in a hurry. If you decide to check it out, I suggest matinee price at most. As I walked out of the theater several groups of people who saw it gathered and talked about it, so at least Marty gave them something to talk about, even if there was a lot of grumbling and mixed reactions.

My grade: C