Thursday, 28 April 2011

Film Faves - Leonardo DiCaprio was actually naked the whole time.

Rabid Lit Major
Mood: Barely awake...may need to cheat on my less-caffeine resolution
Reading: the comics of Lucy Knisley whom my sister Hillary introduced to me yesterday and I am finding insightful, funny and poignant.

When I was in my junior year of high school I was nominated to represent my school in theater at Missouri Fine Arts Academy. I sent in a video of myself performing a Shakespearian monologue and a passage from a Meg Cabot book. Surprisingly, this earned me a spot in the summer program and I spent a joyous month in a hyperactive haze as I learned how to direct, act for the screen and how to properly audition for a musical.

Aside from the discipline-focused courses (theater in my case) us MoFFA attendees were expected to attend I.D. or "Interdisciplinary" classes. Essentially, every class day, they split the whole camp into five-or-so large classes of about twenty each...combining kids from all the different fine arts categories. (Dance, Voice, Musical Instruments, Art/Sculpting, and area) Each of these five (or so) mixed classes had a "landscape" name - to my recollection these were something like River, Mountain, Ocean, Field and my group: Cave.

The theme was "artist's landscape" and we were told that the point of the I.D. class was for us to learn from each other and, over the course of the month, put together a giant presentation centering on our group's name that explained to the other groups what we thought the "artist's landscape" meant.

Yeah. It was pretty stupid.

It didn't help that, as much as we liked each other, our group fought like crazy. In the same way that voices in a cave echo off the walls and create a cacophony through which comprehension is impossible, the cave group was so full of strong, creative personalities that we could not hear each other over our own opinions.

What this meant, of course, is that every class period we argued until our faces were blue, eventually compromised enough to think of an idea for the presentation, worked our asses off to get it started...and at the end of the class, during the reflection session, realized that the compromises had created a concept that nobody liked and scrapped it entirely.


What was worse was that our friends in the other I.D. groups all seemed excited about their projects. We would hear snippets at lunch: "Oh yeah! We finished choreographing our second dance number and put finishing touches on our original composition while the art kids painted the set" and our only response was an awkward "We still haven't started yet."

You're probably wondering where the hell I'm going with this. I promise there's a point.

The day before we were supposed to present our projects arrived and we still had nothing. Nada. Zip. We stood around a big table, our teachers looking on vaguely amused and calmly reminding us that we had to present something tomorrow.

We sat in frustrated, terrified silence for ten minutes until one of us spoke up:

"I think we should B.S. it."

We all thought the "artist's landscape" thing was stupid. Let's face it: it kind of was. So we decided to take the modern art route and make something so vague and simple that people would simply assume that, because we called it "art", it must have some deep and impressive meaning to us artists that they, the audience, could never comprehend.

This was our project: we stole a chair and had a couple photography kids take random pictures of it all around campus. At a desk. In an elevator. With some ballet shoes on it. In a tree. With a bra. (You need at least one risque element in modern art after all.) When it came time to present our project, we sat in the audience with everyone else. In the dark. We waited for people to ask what the hell was going on and added our own questions: purposefully ridiculous. "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to see it...could it fly instead?" When we got others playing along and distracted, one of the group members snuck the chair onstage unseen. When the din hit its peak, we put a spotlight on that empty chair. The room went silent. After a full, hugely awkward, completely silent minute gazing at the chair, the projector screen lit up with the slideshow of pictures. The final picture showed a view of the chair from behind, looking out on the empty audience (a picture of the theater we'd taken before anyone had arrived.)

After the presentations, we gathered in classrooms to discuss. The other presentations had been elaborate. They frankly discussed what it meant to be an artist. They used dance and music and painting to express their joy and creativity. They were elaborate. They were impressive. Extreme amounts of effort went into them.

When asked which group had captured the "artist's landscape" best, the near-unanimous answer was "the cave group". Students and teachers alike praised our grasp of the intricacies of the creative soul: the anguish and the ecstasy of imagination. They applauded our minimalist approach and felt ours was the most "sincere" performance.

At one point I glanced back at my own I.D. teachers and saw them biting their fists in an effort to keep from laughing.

Essentially, we allowed our fellow artists to prove our assumption that they were dumb enough and egocentric enough to make our project seem more clever than it was completely correct.

Christopher Nolan would have fit in well in the cave group.

Caution: If you still want to see this film and are excited by the huge twist you've heard everyone applaud, stop reading now. Either I will ruin it for you by spilling the huge secret, or I will ruin it for you by revealing that the huge secret was stupid. Either way: spoilers ahead.

Film: Inception (2010)
Starring: Leonardo diCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page (aka Juno-chick)
Screenplay by: Christopher Nolan
Accolades: 4 Academy Awards (Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects) 4 Academy Award Nominations (Art Direction, Original Score, Picture of the Year, Screenplay) and a huge amount of fan hype.

Yesterday I spoke of how I liked the ambiguous ending of Labyrinth and how you could never be sure whether she had dreamed the whole thing or not. Why, then, did I find the ending of Inception incredibly idiotic and vaguely insulting?

I was super-excited to see Inception from the very first trailer. The maze-like text of the title sent frissons of bracing terror through me and left me drooling to see it. The snippets of action and mind-bending graphics looked incredible.

It came out. Friends of mine left the theater talking about how awesome it was. How the end was such a mental mind-f*** and how much I'd loved it. The excitement grew.

Then another friend told me "Eh, the ending was lame."

She was the nay-saying needle in a glowing-review haystack. I chose to believe she was being contrary and maintained my excitement, now more determined to like it to prove her wrong.

I will apologize to her now for my lack of faith in her assertion.

So, the plot of Inception is something like that television gimmick "Picture in Picture". There exists some kind of ability/technology/mystical-devil-summoning-process which allows people to enter other people's minds through their dreams in the most complicated form of intellectual property theft ever invented. It's probably every copyright lawyer's nightmare, (Grandma? Grandpa?) and will likely spark some truly absurd conspiracy theories in all of the hundreds of drunks who have ever said: "He's making money off of that?! I came up with that idea years ago but the man kept me down!"

At some point, someone comes up with the logical idea that if you can steal an idea from somebody's mind you can probably plant an idea there as well. Which isn't creepy at all, as I'm sure every sci-fi character that's ever been brainwashed by an evil government can tell you.


So I'm watching the film, and admittedly the visuals were awesome. I mean really, truly, awesome. I only had three major issues with the main portion of the film.

1. Not enough of Ellen Page being Ellen Page. In fact, not enough Ellen Page period. We get one really awesome scene where she bends reality like a kid with a never ending supply of play-doh in every color of the rainbow and then she just fades into the (sometimes inverted) background. There's two issues with this: First of all, in every other film she's been in, Page has been charming and quirky and vibrant. She was boring here. Her character had no opportunity to shine. Secondly, the assertion that they "needed" an architect was never really proven. Her input in the plot seemed minimal, other than feeding Leo's angst. I wanted some elaborate scenes dreamt up by her mind that really impeded everyone creating an excellent plot-point. Instead, it seemed the only reason they needed an architect was to emphasize that Leo's character couldn't be one. Because of his angst. Angst. Angst. Angst. Angst.

2. IT WAS ALL ABOUT LEO. Boring. The whole film was set up so his character could whine about his miserable existence and his wife. Which would be cool...if we hadn't been promised a film about really cool mind-blowing sci-fi and instead were treated to an angst-ridden plot about trust and relationships and guilt with very little actual delving into the sci-fi parts. The sci-fi makes a pretty background, but it really is just the background. Think back: was any of the really awesome technology really explored: implications, history, impact, function etc.? Or was it briefly skimmed over so we get the premise and then used to make everyone feel high and get distracted from the fact that nothing was actually being answered?

3. I literally spent the entire film...the entire film...muttering under my breath "Please don't let the ending be that it was all a dream. Please don't let the ending be that it was all a dream. Please don't let the ending be that it was all a dream." Why? BECAUSE IT WAS BLOODY OBVIOUS. The "real" world held absolutely no element of realism. They weren't even really trying to trick us. At no point did the real world hold a single feeling of realism. There is foreshadowing, and there is being beaten over the head with a baseball bat labeled "TWIST ENDING" until the phrase shows up backwards in bruises all over face. Among all of the other hints, here's the biggest: everyone takes the whole concept of mind-rape in stride. Seriously? It's obvious it's not really a well-known thing. Leo has to explain the concept to Page. She gets over the shock of the most intrusive idea ever pretty freaking quickly.

But here's the really big problem I had: for such a huge, creative's been done. A lot. And better. More subtly and with more point.

Places the ending of Inception was handled with more dexterity
Abres Los Ojos (NOT Vanilla Sky)
House M.D.
Scrooge McDuck
Thousands of cartoons searching for a cheap gimmick.

Essentially, I think that the ending of Inception is like the Emperor's New Clothes. We've been told it's clever. We've been told it's brilliant. We are too afraid, therefore, to admit that we don't get it. Meanwhile Christopher Nolan is laughing all the way to the bank, because he knows there was nothing to get in the first place. He distracted us with shiny special effects (nothing up my sleeve!) so we didn't notice him setting up the magnets that make the damn top spin.

Summation: Totally deserved the Academy Awards it idea why it was ever nominated for writing or best picture.

You spin me right round, baby.


  1. I LOVED your story.

    As for Inception, you have some valid points, especially about the ending. However, can you imagine whah your reaction might have been if you hadn't heard all the hype? I had heard almost nothing about it except that it did really well in the box office. I loved it BECAUSE of the special effects, the general idea of the dream-in-dream plot, AND the relationship between DiCaprio's character and his wife. The ending wasn't a big deal to me - how could you not see it coming? But I loved the movie nevertheless.

    This is why I barely allow myself to watch trailers of some movies or tv shows, and why I want to strangle everyone who gives away spoilers. Sometimes all the hype ruins the movie before you even get to watch it.

  2. Enjoyed the post. You should just do a review over a trailer for a movie before you see it.

  3. I think that the reason that I liked Inception was that I was impressed that it was handled with enough care that it made sense. It could have easily been WAY overdone so that it was impossible to comprehend, but I think it was handled carefully enough that if you wanted a mind bender, you got it, but if you just wanted a fun action film, you got that as well. There are a lot of things that could have been changed (and some things that left me going 'huh?' in the middle of it), but just subtleties like the fact that you COULD tell that it seemed like a dream even when it wasn't explicitly stated I think require a lot of craft.

  4. Haha...I love that this post finally got me some comments. Nothing like a negative review to spark feedback I guess. Though I think you guys may have missed some qualifiers in the post...for example: "...I only had three major issues..."

    I liked Inception. I thought it was a cool concept, for all of my snark, and I absolutely adored the special effects. I didn't really mind the plot with the wife...I just felt they introduced a lot of really cool plot elements that didn't get enough screen time because of Leo's plot. And I still say the ending was lame. I would have found that ending lame without any hype at all.

    Gena - interesting idea. Actually...I always thought it'd be cool (if I had money) to see a new-to-theaters film once a week or so and review it. It'd be cool to add the element of tiny posts about the pre-film trailers...