Thoughts on “Larry Crowne”

Tom Hanks’ “Larry Crowne” is a film that your mom goes to see with her girlfriends. It’s what appears run-of-the-mill romantic comedy starring everyman Tom Hanks and America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts. In some ways, that is the film. But the miracle of “Larry Crowne” is its immediacy and its passion for the human experience. This is a film that came and went in the theaters and it will be forgotten. It shouldn’t.

The film, co-written with Hanks by Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), and directed by the man himself, is about finding purpose. For most people, it is through purpose that life’s meaning is found. For some, raising a family is their purpose and that gets them through their existential woes. For others, they find this solace in their work. This is the focus of Larry Crowne’s life at U-Mart until he is laid off due to his lack of a college education. Crowne (played with dependable pluck by Hanks) faces a new chapter in his life – a chapter he never expected. He enrolls at the local community college where he meets Mrs. Mercy Tainot (Roberts), a speech and communications professor who’s at her wit’s end of a terrible marriage. He also meets Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a free-spirit who introduces him to the comfort of being cool. Larry begins to re-experience the life he’s felt he missed after his 20 years in the Navy. “Larry Crowne” is very much a film that encourages the idea that the experience of living is in itself what must be appreciated. For the three major characters, the achievement of purpose is what enlightens their existence.

Hanks, Roberts and Mbatha-Raw all portray their own character arcs to exhibit the theme of purpose. Hanks’ Crowne is generally optimistic, but never felt his past had any merit worth mentioning. He hides from his passion of cooking, because he felt he had done it too long in the Navy. His re-invention is a catalyst for his return to his passion and he is able to grow, even in middle age. Roberts’ character is borderline depressed, and wants to find purpose in her teaching. Thanks to Larry Crowne, she not only re-discovers her enthusiasm – but also finds the grown up man she’s been looking for. The character of Talia is pure optimism but is seemingly lost. When she drops out of college to pursue her dream of owning her own business, she finds her purpose. All of these character arcs seem relatively inconsequential, but really show how something so meaningless can actually change a person’s life forever. The film is surely fantasy, but it’s ideas and main themes of finding purpose are essentially human. This is a human film.

“Larry Crowne” ended its theatrical run recently, but will be on DVD and Blu-ray in November. It’s not essential viewing, but highly recommended. It might even help you find you your purpose.


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Sucker Punch: The Empty Film Fulfills

What’s the better cinematic result – a consummate film that achieves a higher standard such as “The Social Network” or “Inception,” or a film so horrific that it fulfills the audience on an unconscionable level of ecstasy?

Zack Snyder, director of uneven films such as the “Dawn of the Dead remake, “300” and “Watchmen,” has released his first original feature film – “Sucker Punch” and will be releasing it on DVD on June 28. It’s his worst film to date – a glossy, hyper-sexed, misogynistic yet so-called women’s empowerment film that takes the metaphoric narrative to a place so utterly laughable that it joins movies like “Troll 2” and “The Room” in that rare status of “so bad it’s good.”

“Sucker Punch” tells the tale of troubled young Baby Doll (Emily Browning), who, after accidentally killing her sister whilst trying to take out her rapist stepfather, is sent to Lennox house – an institution for trigger-happy young ladies. This bit of backstory is told through Snyder’s only true skill – the montage. The opening sequence is well shot and somewhat promising but only in the realm of mediocre cinema. Had the entire film been as good as this sequence, it still would have been just a mediocre film. It’s Snyder’s only talent, but it’s still written in his usual unintelligibly clichéd way.

Baby Doll is taken to Lennox house, and after a deal set up by her stepfather and the brutish owner Blue (Oscar Isaac), she is scheduled for a lobotomy – only to save the skin of her guilt-ridden stepfather. Baby Doll is introduced to the ward, known as the “theatre,” and from here her fantasy begins. For some reason, Baby Doll re-imagines the hospital as a brothel.

This is where Snyder’s writing must have been influenced by his own ideals of women’s empowerment that seem to be channeled through his unconscious (or maybe even conscious) misogyny. It is outrageous to comprehend that a girl of Baby Doll’s age and style would likely utilize the brothel as her fantasy as an escape from the reality of her situation. It’s this incredulous nature that keeps Snyder from the current A-list of Hollywood’s latest elite (such as J.J. Abrams or Matthew Vaughn). He writes like a half-asleep teenager watching porn while playing the latest “Grand Theft Auto.” All of his “strong” female characters in all of his films have been exceedingly perverted and masculine. Snyder has no place in writing female characters as he sets back the standard indefinitely.

Then again, there’s this payoff that Snyder always fulfills. His films are a realization of his passion and much like Tommy Wiseau’s film “The Room,” there’s pleasure in watching his failure come to life. One could view Snyder’s “Watchmen” again with this attitude and actually find some kind of closure on how it nearly ruined Alan Moore’s masterpiece.

It would be an easy shot to say that it’s ironic that “Sucker Punch” is an aptly titled movie for any cash wielding movie theater patron or DVD enthusiast, but after viewing the film – I can only recommend that this sort of film somehow deserves your money. Call me greedy, but I’d like to see what else Zack Snyder could possibly do to outdo himself. His next project is the second reboot of Superman starring unknown Henry Cavill as our favorite Kryptonian and Amy Adams as Lois Lane. Lois Lane is a strong female character, possibly one of the strongest in mainstream cinematic pop culture. Amy Adams is one of our greatest actresses and Zack Snyder is one of our worst directors. The combination should be interesting.

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An Essay on the Brilliance of “Funky Monkey”

In the course of cinema’s history, there have been many films that change the way we perceive our own humanity. Films like “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather” and “Schindler’s List” show how the choices we make as human beings define our identity. These are essential films that we as people deserve to examine and appreciate on a higher level. In 2004, a film was released direct-to-DVD that should be included in this array of cinema – the best of the best. However, the superficiality of pretentious cinephiles that often – to use a cliché – “judge a book by its cover” would believe in a heartbeat that a film like “Funky Monkey” is immediately passable; an unnecessary viewing. Those people are wrong.

Alright, that’s a huge overstatement – the film is exceptionally inept in many ways. However, it has some sort of a grasp on this film critic that has resulted in viewing the film so many times that an accurate count is impossible. Based on a whim, the first viewing of the movie was like watching a Chaplin film for the first time. It’s entirely unbelievable, but “Funky Monkey” might be one of the best comedic cinematic experiences since “Modern Times.”

The plot revolves around a chimpanzee named Clemens who is specially trained by former C.I.A. Agent Alec McCall (an incredible Matthew Modine) for the evil corporation Zoology International Technology (Z.I.T.) run by the villainous Flick (Taylor Negron). After a test presentation of Clemens’ abilities, McCall learns of Flick’s plans to experiment on the chimp. Acting fast, he breaks Clemens out of his cell and they make their escape to San Diego. McCall attempts to hide his primate fugitive at his friend Harlan’s (Tommy Davidson) zoo, but Clemens goes bananas when the bumbling zoo handlers try to cage him. Luckily, Clemens and McCall meet young Michael Dean (Seth Adkins) whose mother Megan (Roma Downey) happens to be renting a garage apartment. McCall gets the apartment after a heroic skateboard stunt (because that’s how realty works these days), but must keep Clemens a secret.

Meanwhile, Flick has woefully enlisted the help of two incompetent security guards Drummond (Bodhi Elfman) and Peters (Pat Finn) to capture both the chimp and Flick’s laptop (which McCall had Clemens snatch during their motorcycle escape from Z.I.T.).

The film has a bevy of action sequences which are so pathetically done that they can only come off as absolutely hilarious. There is one particular scene in which young Michael finds the gumption to ask out the girl of his dreams to the Halloween party. She accepts and in his excitement, Michael punts a football which lands into the open helmet of a motorcycle gang’s leader. The driver crashes, but is of course well enough to threaten our young hero. Luckily, McCall is there to save the day and beats up the entire gang with the use of ice cream cones (McCall shoves one down the leader’s mouth and gloats, “It’s butter pecan!”) and then he and Clemens finish them off utilizing a nearby playground, Jackie Chan style. The scene is amateurishly cut (the gang rides up in a perfect “flying v,” and the next shot shows several tracks in the grass indicating it took many different takes to shoot the scene) but it’s this poor style in addition to Modine’s bizarre performance that makes the film so endearingly watchable.

Modine could have easily phoned it in, but there appears to be an appreciation for how bad the film is in his performance. His portrayal of animal trainer/football star McCall is strikingly bizarre if not unconditionally ingenious. He must have been the only one in on his own joke. In an interview in 2009 with Buzzine, Modine said of the film, “The story was just so retarded, so crazy that I thought this could be a really fun children’s movie.” In the interview, he continues saying that the film was an absolute disaster. They filmed most of it in France and then had to re-shoot almost all of the film in San Diego (which hopefully means there’s a whole other “Funky Monkey,” actually titled “Hairy Tale” sitting on someone’s computer and will one day be re-edited for release).

However, Modine seems to be the only one in on the joke. The rest of the players are just awful, but still endearingly so. Downey throws on her awkward American accent and has such horrific plastic surgery that her role as McCall’s love interest is laughable. Adkins’ Michael Dean is supposed to be a child genius but just comes off as an awkward wannabe nerd. He too quickly gains the attention of the cutest girl in school who should just be ignoring him. The film does offer big names like Jeffrey Tambor as football coach J.T. Whooping Crane and Gilbert Godfried as the evil Doctor Spleen but their cameos are mostly forgettable, with the exception of a well-placed honking sound effect during Godfried’s last scene (a monkey bops him on the nose and the sweet sound of a bicycle horn is the effect – pure comedy, right?). Other stars like Jason Flemyng (“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and more recently “Clash of the Titans”) and character actor Fred Ward are credited as being in the film, but never make an appearance proving that there is definitely another movie out there just waiting to see the light of day.

The reason the film is so accessible and forgivable for its many, many flaws is its total lack of pretension. This is the case of a film that tried really hard to be a funny family film, but its director Harry Basil (who was originally supposed to only be the producer until they supposedly fired the first director Gene Quintano) just didn’t know how to make a movie. Usually this kind of filmmaking is unbearable to watch (think the Friedberg/Seltzer parody movies), but in the case of “Funky Monkey,” it’s appeal is that there seemed to be a lot of love that went into a film that was doomed from the start. It’s the family equivalent to Tommy Wiseau’s new cult classic “The Room.”

If you’re perusing the cheap bin at Wal-mart (which you know you do) and find this hidden gem, don’t judge the DVD by its cover and pick up “Funky Monkey” which is also available to watch any time as an instant watch on Netflix. As Michael Dean would say, you’ll “climb immeasurable on my coolness chart.”


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Review: The Kids Are All Right

Author’s note: Finding the motivation to write in my life is a bit difficult right now, but when you see a film like “The Kids Are All Right,” the motivation finds you.

For the past five years, the actress has been one of the most important assets in modern cinema. From Helen Mirren in “The Queen” to Sally Hawkins in “Happy-Go-Lucky” to Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married” to Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep in just about anything, the power of the performance has been the leading factor in the emotional and dynamic results of the finished film. On DVD next Tuesday, writer/director Lisa Cholodenko’s wonderful independent dramatic comedy is a must see for those with the ability to witness great acting. The film is overshadowed by its “quirky indie” marketing campaign, but like most modern independent hits the substance of the film expunges the saccharine of its publicity.

A contemporary family, led by its two lesbian partners Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) and anchored by their two children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), are shaken up when Joni – having just turned eighteen – makes the call to the sperm donor of both she and her brother. Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an easy going restaurateur, enters their lives to the chagrin of both parents. As he begins to connect with the children he never knew he had, the life of the old family becomes anew. Nic, intellectual and generally a bit uptight, becomes worse in terms of jealousy – especially after her much more carefree partner and children all fall for Paul. The emotional ties the bind are pulled to their ends when Jules, feeling unappreciated and attracted to this new man, begins a sexual relationship with Paul.

The film is deceptively simple in terms of story but becomes intensely complex when this major beat occurs. Under Cholodenko’s direction – and following her incredibly authentic script – the actors never resort to overemphasis. Their pain feels real. Since this is not a realist film, it is up to Bening, Moore, Wasikowska, Hutcherson and Ruffalo to achieve deep human emotion without sentimentalizing the script. Needless to say, all five accomplish this task without any trouble – especially Bening.

Nominated twice for an Academy Award, this should be her year. Bening plays Nic, a very restless woman on the verge of a breakdown, but with a big heart. It would be very easy to find Nic annoying but Bening gives Nic a heartbreaking compassion that works through the entire film. Natalie Portman will be the one to beat this year for her supposed visionary performance in Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” but this is one of those few times in which an actress who is quite due for an award should win – not just because she’s due but because the performance deserves the trophy. Even if she never wins, as long as Bening keeps taking roles like Nic, we should be just as happy.

The rest of the cast is spectacular. Moore’s Jules is free-spirited. After the affair, her inability to hide her feelings destroys her, but Moore plays the character with an essence only a expert actress could pick up on. Having lived with Nic for so long, Jules has become something of an informed noncomformist. While a complete free spirit would not necessarily have the intellectual means of explaining her situation, Jules (after a lot of introspective thought) is able to talk to her family in an honest and illuminated way. Moore is fantastic here – definitely one of her best roles, making up for that horrible guest spot on “30 Rock” in which she achieved what can only be called the worst fake Boston accent of all time.

Wasikowksa and Hutcherson play the kids and aren’t just “All Right” or just alright – they too are downright overwhelmingly impressive. They play each of their characters as shadows of their respective parents. Wasikowska (who underwhelmed in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” but atoned with this film) plays Joni, somewhat cerebral like her biological mother Nic and Hutcherson portrays Laser (you get used to hearing it in the film, even though it’s one of the most ridiculous names ever) somewhat freely and curious like Jules.

Ruffalo’s at his best here – and goes through the bigger changes in the film. Starting out pretty informal and laid back to committed and fatherly to absolutely heartbroken – his performance may go unnoticed by many due to the ambiguity of his exit in the film. However, this should not be taken fully into consideration. Paul introduces his weird personality and humor into the lives of these crunchy Californians in a way that they may consciously forget but will stay with all of them – most especially the impressionable Laser. Ruffalo is endearingly lovable as Paul and worthy of merit in his role.

While Bening’s performance is essential to the film, it is truly an ensemble’s film – and not just between the actors. “The Kids Are All Right” is a superb piece of modern independent filmmaking from Cholodenko’s moving script to the brilliant cinematography by Igor Jadue-Lillo and Jeffrey Werner’s complimentary editing – the film nears consummate in its design and presentation. Don’t let the film’s own advertising get in the way of seeing this film – it’s one of the best of the year.

Grade: A

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Some of the earliest color motion pictures.

This is absolutely extraordinary. The woman at the end is astoundingly gorgeous. It’s interesting that color film was shunned so intensely at first when one can see how beautiful it can be.

Source here

Here’s a short quote from there, and then the unbelievable video.

In these newly preserved tests, made in 1922 at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, actress Mae Murray appears almost translucent, her flesh a pale white that is reminiscent of perfectly sculpted marble, enhanced with touches of color to her lips, eyes, and hair. She is joined by actress Hope Hampton modeling costumes from The Light in the Dark (1922), which contained the first commercial use of Two-Color Kodachrome in a feature film. Ziegfeld Follies actress Mary Eaton and an unidentified woman and child also appear.

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Inception: A Cinematic Dream

The modern American blockbuster is without a doubt a hive of deplorable, inarticulate nonsense. In the past few years we’ve been “treated” to films like “Transformers,” “Twilight” and “2012.” These are event films – movies only meant to earn money by offering big budget effects and supposed escapism. It’s hard to say American audiences deserve a masterpiece blockbuster after spending so much money on garbage like this but this summer delivered the first major film of the decade with Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” The film has a wonderful case of classic cinematic ambiguity – something that has been thrown away by even the most artful users of its design (Martin Scorsese, we all saw “Shutter Island” – you can do better).

The film has a very intricate plot, involving a dream thief or “extractor” named Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio, in a role characteristically similar to his in “Shutter Island” but acceptably so because the character is much more deeply written and performed less extravagantly than in Scorsese’s flick) who, with a team of highly trained individuals including his partner-in-crime Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), will remove a simple thought or idea from someone by kidnapping them and then tapping into their dream. Cobb is hired by Saito (Ken Watanabe) to perform inception – the seemingly impossible act of planting an idea in one’s head unconsciously (so that the receiver of said idea is unaware they are the victim of inception). Cobb hires a new team including Ariadne (Ellen Page), Eames (Tom Hardy) and Yusuf (Dileep Rao) to research their target, Robert Fisher Jr. (Cillian Murphy), whom Saito wants to dismantle his dying father’s company. The team enters Fisher’s dream, but Cobb’s daunting past and inability to control his malicious dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) from entering the dream turns the mission upside down.

The film is the third in a series of modern films about the dream. The first was the groundbreaking 1999 film “The Matrix” directed by the Wachowskis and the second was Michel Gondry’s mind-erasing low budget feature “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” The Matrix was a cunning film, using the sleeping human mind as a metaphor for the many different ways we are unconsciously controlled by the world sociologically both by government and the media. The characters’ stasis resulted in their ability to control their environment based on their understanding of its rules and of their “programming.” In “Eternal Sunshine,” Gondry portrayed the effects of memory erasure and through both his directing style, Ellen Kuras’ underrated cinematography, Charlie Kaufman’s script, Jon Brion’s score and the performances of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, he was able to show the unconscious psychological effects of dreaming and by its process that we make life decisions.

Nolan’s film feels like a lurid dream after a marathon of those two films. In “Inception,” Nolan uses the ambiguity of his ending (an open ending that questions whether or not Cobb has been dreaming the whole time) to create the mood and metaphors of his film. Is Cobb dreaming or not? In fact, are we dreaming? It is in this sense that Nolan is being compared to Kubrick in the way that “2001: A Space Odyssey” is able to break the barrier from questioning the film to questioning one’s own existence. Nolan performs inception through the act of making this film – by placing a simple thought into his audience’s mind, therefore changing the way we think about the possibilities of how we decode cinema. Last year, James Cameron successfully duped audiences all over the world into thinking he had created the new “2001: A Space Odyssey” with his unnervingly boring and useless “Avatar” (he even told Charlie Rose this was his intention), but little did he know that Nolan would beat him artistically by a long shot. “Inception” will last, “Avatar” will not.

Nolan has been getting compared to Kubrick, and for good reason. In films like “Eternal Sunshine” and Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch” – the cinematography works with the concept of the film. In “Eternal Sunshine,” the camera is often set up in such an unorthodox way that it feels like you’re in a dream. The films feel like dreams or hallucinations because they are filmed as such, with characters often changing point of view. It breaks the classical style of cinematography in a way that we are able to delve into the concept of the film. This is Nolan’s fifth film working with cinematographer Wally Pfister, who has always done an excellent job (his work on the Batman films in terms of their looks are impeccable and quite similar to Frank Miller’s comic style). In “Inception,” Pfister does not stray from his particular style of shooting. At first glance this could seem to be the film’s only problem – but it isn’t. Interestingly, this is where one can begin to question the ending of the film. Is the cinematography of the world we see within the dreams the same as the real world because the real world is a dream world? The beauty of “Inception” is its ambiguity and that the viewer has the choice in how they want to the film to end.

What’s interesting about Nolan’s film making style is that he doesn’t have Kubrick’s misanthropy – his style both works on a level that transcends the modern blockbuster in terms of the audience’s thought process and also in a way that embraces current trends through action sequences and big name stars. Nolan doesn’t have Kubrick’s madness and is working in a time where one’s artistic intentions must be held back if one has monetary expectations to fulfill. Thus his films will never be as consummately ambiguous but he really seems to be the only one who’s trying. Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” had the makings of being a modern day version of Jack Clayton’s unabashedly ambiguous “The Innocents” starring Deborah Kerr (which happens to be one of Marty’s favorites) but his adherence to the source material stunted what could have been his best work in years.

Nolan does take a leap of faith in the fact that these people are so incredibly able to control their dreams. Very few dreams allow the sleeper to keep such a focus on one idea, let alone completely several missions. We could assume that the devices that put Cobb and his team to sleep allow them to work at a different level of consciousness, but that is never addressed. When Page’s character Ariadne joins the team, she is almost immediately able to work seamlessly in the dream state. Again, this could lend itself to the concept of the ending of the film as the introduction to the film’s ambiguity. The team’s unbelievable ability to work within the dream could be a dream itself – conjured up by Cobb’s father (played by Michael Caine). Caine’s few scenes in the film – specifically placed – add another level of intrigue as to whether or not Cobb is in control.

There are several more reasons why the film works on so many levels. First of all, the music transcends the film world into the real world. In the film, Cobb and Arthur use Edith Piaf’s “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien” (translated roughly to “I regret nothing”) to alert themselves that soon they’ll wake into either the real world or another level of dreaming (if they’ve set themselves up to dream within a dream). A few years back, Cotillard won an Academy Award for playing Piaf in the biopic “La Vie En Rose.” Interestingly, Mal (Cotillard’s character) is a character whom Cobb feels great regret for and in his dreams it is her appearance that is the first sign of danger in the mission at hand. This motif is Nolan’s indication of the transcendent potential of film itself. Also interesting is Hans Zimmer’s score for the film. It consists of very loud and deep horns that rise up very similarly to John Williams’ “Jaws” theme. However, their similarity to the rousing open notes of Piaf’s number is eerily allusive. In fact, there’s a comparison that’s been floating on the internet that undoubtedly proves this determination.

Another interesting aspect of the film is its use of computer generated effects. Nolan is infamous for being very anti-CGI and in “Inception” he utilizes them in a very particular way. The effects are far from perfect, and like the camera effects used in “Eternal Sunshine,” they mirror the concept of the dream style cinematography. Visions within one’s dream are not entirely perfect and neither are the special effects of the film. They seem detached – like an unfinished thought.

The characters of the film are also essential, and the performances of the actors only rectify their necessity to the concept. Dicaprio is in top form – Cobb is probably his best role to date – not too understated, but still mysterious. Leo’s a master of the conflicted in that he never overacts. Dicaprio portrays Cobb on two main levels – one that is absolutely in control and the other that shows a distance, which may suggest that he in fact is not in control. Cobb is a very distressed man, who holds all of his secrets within. When Ariadne lets them out, all hell breaks loose. Page also creates a distance to her character – like someone thought up in a dream but that may also be more aware than the film initially suggests. Ariadne is hired as the “architect” of Fisher’s dream but soon becomes more interested in finding out what Cobb’s been hiding. It almost seems as if she has an alternate motive, in that she could be the one trying to attempt inception on him. That and her mysterious connection to Caine’s character are also conjecture toward Nolan’s big cinematic question.

Hardy and Gordon-Levitt are also superb in the film. While the performances of Dicaprio and Page are excellent – it’s these two who sort of ground Cobb and Ariadne’s laboriousness with a subtle sense of humor. Even Murphy’s performance is crucial – playing the same kind of familiar distance to Page and Dicaprio (in certain parts, such as the Hoth-like mountain base sequence, he seems to fit in the process just fine). It’s also apparent that Nolan, in his casting decisions, is very concerned with having only good-looking people in his films.

For all the reasons that the ending of “Inception” is seemingly explained by certain aspects, there is a major aspect of the film that denies the concept that Cobb is dreaming the entire film. The film goes out of its way to over-explain the rules of dream extracting. Both Cobb, Arthur and Eames have to educate the very new Ariadne on the guidelines of how they do what they do and how her job as architect is the most essential. She is tasked with learning how to make the impossible possible, through maze-making lessons with Arthur in which he teaches her how to construct Escher-like structures (an artist whose work strongly influences the film – to understand Escher is the first step in being able to conceptualize the film). Most of these scenes feature only Arthur and Ariadne. They are the few scenes in the film that do not feature Cobb at all. In all of best films of this sub-genre of the ambiguous film, the character whose sanity is questioned, such as Kerr’s Miss Giddens in “The Innocents” and Peter Weller’s Bill Lee in “Naked Lunch,” is in the film at all times. It is entirely shot in their character’s point of view. If Ariadne and Arthur were in on a conspiracy then it would be apparent in their interactions away from Cobb.

We also learn that Cobb’s inability to let go of his deceased wife becomes extremely problematic in the dream extracting process. However, it is never really a problem in the so-called real world. Within the real world, Cobb has Yusuf conduct dream tests on him so that he can try to keep Mal trapped within his dreams so they can’t infect the others’ during the missions. While Ariadne’s obsession with freeing Mal from Cobb seems almost too intense to not be intentional, it seems as though she’s so out of the loop that it would appear impossible for her to be the wiser. However this could all be controlled by a greater power and the only way to get Cobb to free himself is to make himself think he’s in a dream. Again, Both Page and Dicaprio’s performances subtly steer into both territories of the real and of the concept.

There is one small scene that is so ostensibly vague that it must be considered against all other arguments. After the first major sequence, we find Cobb sitting in a hotel room speaking on the phone with his children. The conversation is awkward, mostly about how Cobb isn’t sure if he’ll ever return home and that Mal is in fact dead. On the first level of the film, it appears to be a very heartfelt scene of a father trying to reach out to his children. If you look deeper within the concept of Nolan’s ending, the scene could imply it’s all part of Cobb’s dream – an insinuation of the control he may be under. However, the scene ends with Cobb twirling Mal’s spinning top (known as his “totem,” one of the main motifs of the film) and putting a gun to his head. If the top teeters and falls this means that he is in fact in the real world. If it continues to perfectly spin, he knows he’s in a dream. Cobb puts the gun to his head and then puts it down when he sees the top fall. It’s as if he subconsciously knows he may be in a dream. This suggests that he may in fact be more in control than Nolan is letting on through his concept. It could also infer that after the final spin of the top at the end of the film that it indeed does fall and Cobb has finally come home both mentally and physically.

“Inception” is a rare film for our times. It’s a high concept, Kubrick-style film disguised as a major Hollywood action thriller. Like a Kubrick film, it will split many audiences – but if the box office numbers are any indication of the film’s artistic success, it’s obvious that people might be ready for a little ambiguity in their local multiplex. Heck, even the porn version (“Insertion,” anyone?) of the movie would be more interesting than most of the shlock event movies that we are bombarded with every summer. This could be a major step forward in terms of left-brained film making in modern American cinema – a symptom that things could be looking brighter for a brand new era of young directors. Directors like Marc Webb (“(500) Days of Summer”) and Neill Blomkamp (“District 9”) proved that there’s still artistic talent that is eager to step up to the plate. However, Nolan goes a step further – into territory no one expected. He might be the best thing we’ll get to our Kubrick – if he doesn’t go crazy.


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R.I.P. Harvey Pekar

This truly is sad news. Harvey Pekar, one of the most prolific writers of underground comics and most famously “American Splendor” has passed away at age 70. His life was put to film in one of the best biopics ever made starring Paul Giamatti in his greatest role to date. The film is a testament to the creative soul and that even when dreams come true one must face their own reality. It’s one of the best films of the past ten years. Harvey, we’ll miss ya!

Here’s a strip (click to enlarge) written by Harvey after the passing of Marlon Brando on a film the great actor starred in called “The Men,” directed by one of my favorite directors – Fred Zinnemann.

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