“Batman v. Superman” Shows (and Tells) Too Much

Super Stink Face

Super Stink Face

The new and (hopefully last!) trailer for  Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has dropped and it indicate the first sign of the glaring absence of executive producer Christopher Nolan to tell writer David S. Goyer and director Zack Snyder, “I wouldn’t do that if I were for you”.  In Man of Steel, Nolan resisted their idea for Superman to kill Zod and the Dynamic Duo him it would be cool (it wasn’t).

Now with the adult out of the room, who’s gonna tell the kids they can’t eat pizza for breakfast and to flush after using the john?

Let’s sum up the trailer:

Batman is mad at Superman. Superman doesn’t give a shit about Batman being mad. Bruce and Clark have a snark fest. Lex Zuckerberg does a bad Joker riff. Previous scenes from earlier trailers. Bats and Supes duke it out. IT’S A BRO FIGHT! Mark Luthor unleashes his eeeeeeeevil scheme with Zod’s cold dead body. Doomsday is here looking like a moving pile of puke and poop. Bats and Supes team up to fight the greater menace. Mass destruction and big explosions. Suddenly, Whatta Woman appears! Bats and Supes exchange puzzled looks. “Is she with you, dude?” We Stand As One to Kick Doomsday’s nasty ass!

The trailer GIVES AWAY THE WHOLE FUCKING PLOT OF THE MOVIE FOR CHRISSAKES!

I save $10 bucks! This might be the worst trailer since Castaway in giving away all its big moments way too soon.  I’m certain there are more than a few secrets left to reveal in Batman v. Superman, but Great Scott that trailer was spoileriffic.

And it still looks to me like passing over Bryan Cranston in favor of Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor was a turrrible idea as Charles Barkley might say.   It’s completely out of place and character for a DC flick since they disdain being “jokey” like Marvel movies. I didn’t mind the exchange as much as I agree it’s a little tone-deaf after the laugh riots of Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Man of Steel.
The thing which bugs me most about this trailer isn’t Batman or Superman or Wonder Woman or even Doomsday.  Okay, I’m lying a bit  because  Doomsday looks like shit and he’s never been anything but DC’s knockoff version of Hulk Lite so Superman has someone he can hit that won’t splatter from the punch.

It’s Jesse Eisenberg’s goofy Lex Luthor because nothing screams “BEWARE, MY WRATH!” like an angry Jesse Eisenberg!

Look, no knock on Eisenberg as an actor. Loved him as anti-social, unlikable The Social Network, but his Luther looks like the same smart-ass motormouth he played in Now You See Me. In fact, I’ll go further. Between Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey and now Eisenberg, the best actor to play Lex Luthor was…Clancy Brown.

My brother tells me I’m being a buzzkill and the trailer doesn’t spoil everything about Batman v. Superman.  We still haven’t seen Aquaman, but that’s a pretty thin branch to perch on.  If you’re depending on Aquaman to save your movie, it’s a lost cause already.

jesse-eisenberg-lex-luthor-not-bryan-cranston-meme2016 is going to be a huge year in super hero films with Batman v. Superman,  Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad,  and maybe one film where superheroes aren’t beating up each other, Deadpool.

Every genre reaches a point of saturation and if super hero movies aren’t there yet, they are getting close.   When the heroes are beating up each other it’s a sign they are running out of villains to beat up instead.

It’s going to be a big year, but to make it a good year, something is going to have to grab my interest in a way Avengers: Age of Ultron (saw it once and promptly forgot all about it) and Ant-Man (didn’t bother to see it) did not.   Maybe I’ve aged out of getting excited about seeing comic book characters on the big screen or maybe I’m just waiting for one that actually gives me a reason to get excited.

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Collision Course: Captain America vs. Superman vs. Batman

superheroes

There are plenty of reviews for Captain America: The Winter Soldier that opened last weekend to kick off the summer movie season (in April?) and pocketed a tidy $93 million dollars even before I sat down in my seat. This isn’t another one of them. It’s just a few thoughts I had that aren’t spoilers, but one might be “spoilerish.”

Saw the fuck out of the flick on Sunday. It’s really good, though I wouldn’t go so far as some to call it “Marvel’s Dark Knight.” Pump ya brakes and slow ya roll.   It is a fun time in the dark, but there’s no Heath Ledger performance anywhere in sight. Certainly not from the Winter Soldier.

If Kevin Feige reads this, it is time for a Black Widow movie. I was surprised by how much screen time Scarlett Johannson had but this was far and away her best turn as Natasha Romanoff. If we wait for DC to finally give Wonder Woman her shot, we’ll be waiting around for another five years or so. I’m convinced the audience will turn out for Black Widow kicking ass in her own movie.

Come on, Kev. Make it happen!

DC/Warner Bros. is in a completely reactive mode where they have squandered their advantages of having a line of iconic super heroes, yet have utterly and completely failed to exploit that edge into successful franchise films without Batman or Superman.

Over the next two years movies featuring Marvel properties include The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man(?!) and The Avengers: Age of Ultron all up and taking swings at box office supremacy before Superman vs. Batman finally get up to deck in 2016. Two years with nothing to offer is an eternity for a genre of films that has to peak sometime (but hasn’t as of yet).

Oh, and Captain America 3 is already claiming the same 2016 opening week as Supes vs. Bats (does Cap die and Bucky/Winter Soldier pick up the shield as it played out in the comics?). You would think Marvel has to be nuts to go mano a mano against DC’s biggest guns, but they claimed the release date first.

Both of these 500 pound gorillas can’t occupy the same weekend without one being severely wounded by the other. Someone is going to blink and move out of this opening week and I’m willing to bet it will be the one that already moved once already.

Cap ain't afraid of no Superman and his Bat-Buddy either.

Cap ain’t afraid of no Superman and his Bat-Buddy either.

I would expect in a head-to-head competition, Captain America 3 would falter against the joint might of Superman-Batman-Wonder Woman and whomever else the hell DC stuffs into the movie, but if blunts their box office momentum and it doesn’t open to somewhere in the $100 million range, Warner Brothers will need real superheroes to catch all the falling bodies being tossed out of hi-rise office towers.

The trap DC is in is they have bet their entire superhero film future on one movie. This movie can’t underperform or fall short the way Man of Steel did which barely edged out Thor: The Dark World in profitability.    If you’re a Superman fan, how does a Thunder God most people associate with their high school class on mythology give the Last Son of Krypton a run for the money?

It’s because Marvel has followed a plan to build a universe where even it’s “B”list characters can battle DC’s “A” list heroes to a virtual draw.

Marvel has been able to load its gun with several bullets so even if  Thor misses they still have Iron Man, Captain America, and The Avengers locked and loaded with more possibilities for The Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Falcon. Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige says they have their movies planned out to 2028! The fact that actors like Sebastian Stan (Bucky/Winter Soldier) are signed to do six to nine pictures makes it clear than when Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and others “age out” or are done slipping on the spandex, the franchises will go on and on and on…

I don’t see a similar game plan from DC/Warner. They are dealing with a recast Batman, David Goyer and Zack Snyder turned loose without a Christopher Nolan to reign in their worst excesses (and Nolan disagreed with their decision to have Superman kill Zod).

Nolan is gone to pursue his own vision and while the hope is Snyder/Goyer will successfully set up a Justice League franchise it all hinges on Supes/Bats doing billion dollar business.

It could all come together as planned. But if it doesn’t DC isn’t as well-positioned as Marvel to overcome a cinematic setback.

As for Captain America: The Winter Solider, it’s really good. Easily the best superhero movie I’ve seen since The Avengers. Chris Evans has really grown into the role of Steve Rogers/Captain America. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is good. Samuel Jackson finally gets to do more as Nick Fury than stand around and glower. Scarlett Johannson surprised me in how central her role was in my enjoyment of the flick.

I give it a solid “B+” and I’d take my wife with me for a second viewing.

"Let's tell Disney to give you your own film right now!"

“Let’s tell Disney to give you your own film right now!”

 

 

 

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Superman Had To Destroy Metropolis To Save It

“You talkin’ to me?”

As far as summer blockbusters go, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the relaunching of the Superman movie franchise by the Zack Snyder directed and Christopher Nolan produced Man of Steel.   Among the movies of the summer it falls only slightly behind Iron Man 3, but leaps with a single bound over the bloated and soulless Star Trek: Enter Darkness.

For a 75-year old hero, Henry Cavill’s Superman doesn’t quite charm the way Christopher Reeve did when he slipped on the red-and-blue uniform, but Cavill will definitely get a second and probably more chances to slip on the suit (sans the red undies) in future sequels.   Warner Brothers and DC Comics desperately needed a big hit to get them back in the game against the multitude of Marvel movies and with Nolan done with his Batman trilogy,  Man of Steel gets them back in the game.    The trick will be to have as much luck in getting other DC comic book heroes onto the screen, but with the big box office grosses of Man of Steel it should be up, up and away for future franchises.

Between the men of steel and iron, once again comic book movies dominate at the box office.   There are a lot of things I love about Man of Steel,  but boy does it take itself seriously.  That’s the Nolan touch at work because the Dark Knight flicks didn’t have much of a sense of humor either.   If Superman Returns was ripped for being boring as hell, Man of Steel goes for jaw-dropping spectacle and an extended showdown between Superman and his nemesis, General Zod (a glowering Michael Shannon)  that ups the ante for sheer devastation that The Avengers‘ trashing of New York City can’t begin to touch.   That’s where my big problem with Man of Steel begins and be warned that there are major SPOILERS from this point on, so if you haven’t seen the movie, bail out here.

Even fantasy flicks have to follow logic, if not necessarily realism and logic says if two superhumans go to war in the heart of a city and wreak massive devastation and destruction in the process, there will be a body count and you would run out of toe tags and body bags once  you pulling them out of the ruins of Metropolis.

“You like prison movies, Zod?” “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO….”

Merely because we are discussing/debating a fantasy character in a summer popcorn flick, it doesn’t mean we can totally suspend disbelief.  Tom Clancy said it true when he observed, “The difference between truth and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.”  The bloodless catastrophe that befalls Metropolis in Man of Steel makes no damn sense.

Rather than referencing Man of Steel a much more relevant comparison would be Superman II when Zod gets ready to throw down in the middle of Metropolis, Superman retreats rather than tear up the city.

That’s Superman making the smart move instead of being a dickhead with blood in his eyes and dead bodies everywhere.   I am not the target demographic for this film.  It was made for teenage boys who either do not know of Superman’s moral code against killing or could care less about it.  Youth must be served and because technology has come so far in 33 years when the tagline for Superman was “you will believe a man can fly.”  There are all new ways to make shit blow up real good and maybe that’s good enough for those with no sense of history.  Yet even these movies are designed not only to attract kids, but the parents of the kids as well and they are the ones most likely to be familiar with the original source material and still respect it.

Stuff blowing up real good is not enough for me. Superman not only does not kill, he does not willingly permit innocents to die, but this one does both.  Zod is the one who considers massive expenditures of human life to be “collateral damage,” not Kal-El. If neither of them care then there are no good guys and bad guys here. It’s just bad guy and worse guy.

This is supposed to be a more “realistic” Superman who has no choice but to kill in the absence of any better option, but that’s because Snyder and David Goyer’s screenplay didn’t give him any.

After he snaps Zod’s neck, Supes lets out a “NOOOOOO!!!” but he gets over it real quick.    There’s no consequences to trashing a major city and no remorse for killing his enemy.   Batman tells Ra’s Al Ghul, “I’m not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you” in Batman Begins.    Superman says,  “Guess I have to kill you since I can’t figure out any way to stop you.”

Superman’s philosophy used to be “truth, justice and the American way” when it was Christopher Reeve with the “S” on his chest. When did it become “I had to destroy Metropolis to save it?”

Superman is a super hero and super heroes find another way. He can do what takes some imagination or say “ain’t nobody got time for that” and just snap the bastard’s neck. Problem solved, right?

Except I don’t want Superman killing Lex Luthor, Doomsday, Bizarro, Brainiac or anybody else that decides to mess with the “S” because it’s the quick and easy fix and Superman just really digs snapping necks.  Wolverine and The Punisher already exist to put bad guys to sleep permanently, but neither are “heroes” in the classic sense.  Superman is and he is a hero who does what others can not do or will not do, not just what is expedient.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child and I read comic books that appealed to me as a child. When I became a young man I put away childish things including Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and superheroes like that because it stopped making sense to me why someone like Batman would do this endless, repetitive dance with The Joker where the guy escapes from Arkham Asylum (again), kills a ton of innocent people (again), Batman beats him up and throws his ass back into Arkham (again) and six months later we start the whole damn thing all over again.

It was an endless cycle of stupid that made no sense. Garth Ennis’ character of Tommy Monaghan, the Hitman took on a contract to kill the Joker and blamed Batman for enabling the Joker’s murderous sprees because he wouldn’t kill the Clown Prince of Crime saying, “A sensible man would have done it years ago.”.

Superman is blessed with enough powers and abilities that he doesn’t have to kill his enemies. He finds another way because that’s what he does.

That has worked for 75 years. One movie with a revisionist streak doesn’t mean what always worked before doesn’t work anymore.

“Bring me The Avengers and I’ll kick all their asses!”

Superhero Smackdown Set for 2015?

“Standalone movies? We don’t got to make no stinkin’ standalone movies.”

From the Los Angeles Times, there now exists a strong possibility for not one, but two super hero teams slugging it out for box office supremacy in 2015.

DC Comics’ superheroes can finally team up on the big screen following yesterday’s legal victory for Warner Bros. in its long-running fight over the rights to Superman.

The studio is expected to accelerate development of a planned “Justice League” movie that would join Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and other characters, according to a knowledgeable person not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Warner hopes to shoot the film next year and release it in the summer of 2015. The studio already has a “Justice League” script in the works. Next it needs to attach a director and then cast the lead roles.

Had Warner lost its case against the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, it would not have been able to make “Justice League” or any other movies, television shows or comics featuring key elements of the Man of Steel’s mythos after 2013 unless it reached a new agreement with the estates of Shuster and co-creator Jerry Siegel.

That uncertainty made it difficult for Warner to move ahead with “Justice League,” which the studio’s motion pictures group president, Jeff Robinov, has long wanted to make as a pillar of its big-screen superhero strategy.

Robinov previously tried unsuccessfully to convince “The Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan to produce “Justice League.” Nolan is producing next year’s Superman movie “Man of Steel.” Wednesday’s court victory also makes it possible for Warner to make sequels to “Man of Steel” if the picture is successful.

With “Green Lantern” flopping and other movies featuring the Flash and Wonder Woman lingering in development, Warner has lagged behind Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios in profiting from cinematic superheroes. Only Nolan’s blockbuster Batman movie trilogy has succeeded for the Burbank studio.

The studio’s plan is to spin out other superheroes into their own movies following “Justice League.” That’s contrary to Marvel’s successful strategy of teaming up Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America in”Avengers” (which became a global blockbuster) after each character had his own film.

This is welcome news for Justice League fans who have longed to see their heroes finally make the jump from comic books and cartoons to the big screen, but the news comes with some head-scratching details in the story.  Is DC and Warners so confident they can introduce a brand-new Batman, an unproven Henry Cavill as Superman, surround them with a bunch of other actors and knock off something as eagerly anticipated as the second installment of the Avengers ?

Finally off the bench and out of Development Hell?

It is no surprise Nolan is walking away from the millions Warner is offering him.  He’s already one of the best directors working.  He has to want to be nominated for Best Director at some point in his career and it won’t happen making comic book movies. I’m sure Warner will find a good director and a capable cast. I just wonder what the strategy is if Man of Steel tanks or underperforms. Not saying it will. Just saying it could.

Marvel already has sequels in the queue for Thor, Captain America and Iron Man (with the first trailer for Iron Man 3 next Tuesday) and the Guardians of the Galaxy with all four of them priming the pump for the Avengers sequel.   It’s probable not all four will succeed, but it won’t blunt the anticipation for the next Avengers movie.

For DC and Warner there’s no similar margin of error.  If the next Superman relaunch doesn’t fly high at the box office, there’s nothing left to fall back on until Justice League in 2015. That’s why I think the “all or nothing at all” strategy is high reward and high risk. If it works, DC is set up nicely for their own standalone Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman spin-off flicks (sorry Aquaman).

A failure with either or both of their next two films and those future franchises are grounded leaving DC and Warner back in the same dilemma they’ve been in for over a decade; with only Batman and Superman as their go-to comic book movies, and nothing else primed to come off the bench to fill the void between them.

Let’s be honest.  Warners isn’t making a Justice League movie because of its artistic merit.   They’re making it because Disney made a BILLION dollars with Avengers and even if their super hero team movie is only half as good if it only makes half as much that’s a calculated risk worth taking.

Whatever it cost DC and Warner to secure the rights to keep making Superman movies will be money well spent if the Big Blue flies high at the box office.

 

The Dark Knight Rises But Falls Short of Greatness

Batman vs. Bane: whose voice is harder to understand?

Some spoiler-free thoughts about The Dark Knight Rises

1.  It makes me want to watch The Dark Knight again.
2.  Christopher Nolan makes some long-ass movies.
3.  It ties up Nolan’s Batman trilogy in a big bow.
4.  Epic length does not make an epic movie.
5.  It’s no Avengers.

It was awfully generous of Christian Bale as the hero to defer to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as The Joker in the last movie.  He’s not as charitable with Tom Hardy’s Bane.  It’s unfair to compare Bane with The Joker, but I will anyway.  The Joker’s plan (and lack of one) in The Dark Knight makes far more sense than Bane’s scheme, which makes no damn sense.

This was a superhero summer what with the The Avengers which finished off what five previous Marvel movies began, the “ready or not and like it or not, we’re rebooting The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises.

I’m just like Catwoman, but don’t call me Catwoman.

Now I’m out super-heroed OUT.  I am not looking forward with breathless anticipation for Iron Man 3,  Thor 2,   Captain America 2 and I definitely do not even a little bit about Man of Steel because Superman sucks ass.   Zack Snyder shot his creative wad with Dawn of the Dead.  Everything after that?  300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch have their fans, but include me out.  I’ve had quite enough of CGI and bombast, thank you.  Now I’d like something simple like Beasts of the Southern Wild, thank you very much.

Good things about The Dark Knight Rises:  Christian Bale suffers well.  Anne Hardaway and Marion Cotilliard are major assets as much as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Katie Holmes were major whiffs.  Gary Oldman is the underrated link between all three pictures.   The big set pieces (and the third act is nothing but big set pieces) work great.  Nolan is on top of his game here.   The movie is ambitious and it delivers on most of its ambitions.

Bad things about The Dark Knight Rises:  Tom Hardy had the thankless task of following Ledger’s performance and while he bulked up physically to play Bane, he can’t make him an interesting character or foe.   Hans Zimmer’s score got on my nerves.   Nolan still hasn’t figured out how to choreograph a convincing fight scenes.  Almost all the “surprises” aren’t surprising at all.   There are too many scenes that “tell” instead of “show” and raise questions of “Wait…how did that happen?”   There is just too much going on in a movie that goes on too long at two hours and 45 minutes.

I have some problems with The Dark Knight Rises.  I liked it, but I don’t love it.  It’s better than Batman Begins but it can’t touch The Dark Knight (no shock there).   It’s deep, but it’s not much fun.   Batman inhabits a much different (and uglier) world than The Avengers.   Nolan doesn’t play scenes for laughs the way Joss Whedon does.   This is a movie with far more serious things on its mind than alien invasions and scheming demi-gods getting their ass kicked by green-skinned gamma monsters.

 Gotham City is a bleak, grim and unhappy place and its hero is every bit as bleak, grim and unhappy and I don’t think Nolan gives a crap if his movie is more “entertaining” or not.  He’s a serious man making a serious movie.   This is a hero who wants to feared, not cheered.  He prefers to suffer the hatred and suspicion of those he’s sworn to protect.  Batman wouldn’t know what to do with crowds cheering him for saving the day.  Nolan has elevated what a comic book movie can be.  Under his vision of Batman he has shown how you can take an utterly ridiculous concept and make audiences not only lose themselves in the world of the Dark Knight, but not even question its probability.

Nolan avoided doing a Spider-Man 3 and making a jumbled movie with tons of money and no coherent story.   The Dark Knight Rises is a labor of love and it shows.   But not all those labors work successfully and that shows as well.

Vampire Killer, Super Hero Savior

The name's "Blade." Can you guess why?

A friend sent me an e-mail all geeked after watching The Avengers trailer and he was stoked!   He wanted to know how superheroes became such a fundamental part of the summer movie madness.   My answer was it all started with a Black “hero” who proved there was money to be made in mining comic books for gold.

The superhero movie that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for kick-starting the superhero movie genre is Blade (1998).  Before it the last caped crusaders we had the bloated mess that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (1997) that croaked the franchise until Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale breathed life back into it minus the Arnold Schwarzenegger quips and nipples on the Bat-suit.

But Marvel was even more dead in the water.  Think about what kind of superhero movies they had cranked out.  The Punisher with a mumbling Dolph Lundgren?  Roger Corman’s made for ten cents version of The Fantastic Four?  Junk.

Then along came a little movie about a third-rate supporting character in the long canceled Tomb of Dracula comic book.   Nobody had any expectations from Blade, but it totally kicked ass with a tough performance from Wesley Snipes and surprisingly stylish direction from Stephen Norrington. It also had one of the coolest openings of any action flick (see below).  Blade kills men, women, guards.  He even kills the d.j. Man, Blade sure does hate techno music.

Blade didn’t make a ton of money (made for $45 million and grossed $75 million), but it did make enough money to show Hollywood there was a market for super hero movies that didn’t insult the intelligence of its audience.

Marvel picked up the lesson.  Next up were Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) and that got the superhero movies off the mat and back into the business of being summer movie blockbusters.

Not until Batman Begins (2005) did DC get back in the game and though The Dark Knight Returns is the best superhero movie ever made, Marvel has been far more successful in diversifying their portfolio with multiple characters having lucrative launches while DC has so far failed to generate a similar character (Superman Returns, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern) to build franchises around.

But it all began with Blade and though it’s kind of been forgotten, it shouldn’t be.   The sequels Blade II is just as good as the original while Blade:Trinity is a hot mess that killed the franchise  deader than Batman & Robin.   Despite the 49-year-old Snipes’ problems with the IRS, Blade is a character that deserves to return even if the role has to be recast.

Superhero movies have gone from something Hollywood looked down its nose at to one of the most essential determining factors on whether it’s a profitable year or not.  Paramount and Warner Brothers have millions tied up in next year’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises,  but the expectation is both studios will rake in millions more.

Blade is not a great movie.  It’s not made on the ambitious scale of a Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger.   It’s a B-movie and it’s bloody, cynical and earns its “R” rating.  When Blade growls, “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill” you don’t even care that it’s a badly written line that makes no sense.   Superheroes don’t say “mother fucker,” but then Blade is a vampire slayer, not a superhero.

If not for a vampire slayer who won’t pay his taxes we might not be stuck with superheroes up to our eyeballs..

Inception Perceptions part II

 

The dream is real. So is the money.

Now that I’ve had seen Inception a second time  and had some time to put some distance between viewings I can finally say I understand what Christopher Nolan’s “dream within a dream within a dream” heist film was about.

Just don’t ask me to try to explain it.   Sam Adams in Salon wrote the ultimate user’s guide to understanding the movie.   I can’t do any better (and I wouldn’t even try to write  anything longer or in greater depth).

At this point there are three schools of thought on Inception: Those that saw it and were blown away by it.  Those that saw it and shrugged their shoulders disdainfully and those that didn’t see it at all (you’ll get your chance when it hits DVD and Blu-Ray in December).

With the fall movie season getting off to a fine start with rave reviews for The Town, The Social Network (I gave my brother  a pass for it and he liked it) and the documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’,  the Oscar race is beginning to take shape.   Just as  The Hurt Locker became the anti-Avatar you can bet there will be something coming out of left field to cock-block Inception from dominating the award season.   There is such a thing as a blockbuster backlash and Inception looks like a likely candidate to be faulted for being too big for its own good. 

With the James Bond franchise up on blocks and the Bourne series for all intents and purposes put to rest until someone comes up with a script Matt Damon likes,  Inception is probably as good as it’s going to get for a thinking man’s action film.   Is is a perfect movie?  Of course not; no movie is.  There are a few draggy moments and probably enough exposition for three other movies,  but it was as close to perfection as I’ve seen in a while.

Despite the fact Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page still look like little kids playing dress-up their daddies and mommies clothes they carry the film and especially DiCaprio whose transition from teenage heart throb to convincing lead actor is pretty much complete.   Superseding Robert DeNiro as Martin Scorsese’s favorite muse, his performances as Howard Hughes in The Aviator and the doomed Billy Costigan in  The Departed proved once and all  the kid once derided as “DiFaglio”  had developed some serious acting chops.  Next up comes a collaboration with Clint Eastwood in his biopic Hoover  focusing on the infamous FBI director’s private life as a closeted homosexual and cross dresser.   I’m predicting either a fat suit or DiCaprio spending a lot of time at the drive-thru window of Burger King pounding down double Whoppers.

Chris Nolan: sharp-dressed man. Talented too.

In 1998 I was part of a local group of film critics and as critics do we were asked to offer a “Best Movie of the Year”   Without hesitation I named  Dark City as my choice.  On that score both Roger Ebert and I were right and everybody else was wrong.   Dark City was every bit as dazzling and visually astounding as Inception and director Alex Proyas didn’t rely on CGI technical wizardry to blow minds.

It’s possible to draw a straight line from Dark City to The Matrix to Inception, but Dark City seems to have been largely forgotten.  Perhaps in part because leading man Rufus Sewell was somewhat charisma challenged compared to Di Caprio and Keanu Reeves.    All three films deal with dreams, fantastic imagery and unreality and terribly flawed “heroes” who really have no wish to be one.

The one big difference is Inception andThe Matrix both  killed at the box office.  Dark City crept into theaters, dazzled the critics, ignored by paying audiences and was relegated to cult film status.   Being a trail-blazer is no guarantee that you’re going to make money in the process.

At least Nolan doesn’t try to be coy in admitting he’s cribbing from a lifetime of watching movies.

“The film is shameless in its regard for cinema, and its plundering of cinematic history,” Nolan said in an interview, “What’s fun is that a lot of people I talk to come up with very different movies that they see in the film, and most of them are spot-on. There are all kinds of references in there. This wasn’t really a conscious thing on my part; I didn’t set out to make a movie about movies.”

Well, you might not have intended to Chris, but you sure did.   Every summer the theaters are filled with blockbusters but few, if any that brains as well as balls.  Inception did and it saved the summer ($800 million at the box office can’t be wrong).     There might be better acted, better written and better directed movies before the year is over. 

But will there be a better all-around movie going experience than Inception?  I have serious doubts about that.

 

 

Inception Perception part I

Your mind is the scene of the confusion.

The first rule of Inception is you do not talk about Inception because you do not understand what the hell Inception is about.  

It is almost impossible to write any sort of review of Christopher Nolan’s caper flick meets head trip without giving away some key scene or plot point and I’m not going to even try.   Most of all because I’m going to see it a second time just so I can be confused all over again by the parts I didn’t get the first time.   

When we walking back to the car my better half Vanessa observed sagely,  “I don’t know if I liked it or hated it.  The last time I felt this way about a movie was after we saw, Blue Velvet.    You can see the obvious artistry of the director and the vision a David Lynch and Chris Nolan bring to their work, but dammit if they don’t make movies that strain the brain.   

As much as I’ve argued against brain-dead entertainment that fills up the mind with empty computer generated imagery, big explosions, and cartoon characters, I can’t hate on Inception simply because it is a demanding, complex and sprawling movie.    Maybe too much so for audiences numbed and dumbed into insensibility based upon a steady diet of Iron Man 2,  The A-Team, and  Shrek Whatever.   Maybe the ballsiest thing about Inception is while it has all the expected money shot scenes you’d expect from a $160 million summer movie, it’s got more ideas than a dozen  Transformers minus the suck factor of Michael Bay, Shia LaBeuf and Megan Fox.   

Anybody expecting me to try to explain “the dream within a dream with a dream” theme of Inception had better look elsewhere.  The film’s Wikipedia page is lousy with all the spoilers and exposition you could ever want.    Proceed at your own risk.  

My expectations for Inception are probably the highest I’ve had for a film of its type since The Matrix. which was a similar alternative reality that required several viewings to get the point.   That’s something I don’t mind because I’m going to have to give some serious thought as to what in the age of DVD dominance was a movie I felt a need to see in theaters more than once.    What I can say is, the maturation of Leonardo DiCaprio into serious leading man is pretty much complete.    DiCaprio still looks like he’s dressing up in his daddy’s suit and tie, but eternally baby-faced he plays grown-up really well.   Now he’s teaching Joseph Gordon-Leavitt that trick because Third Rock from the Sun was a while ago.  

However, Ellen Page is going to be a munchkin no matter how many movies she makes.   

Leonardo demands everyone admire his funny faces.