Category Archives: Movie Criticism

“Dear Mr Robert Zemeckis Sir” – A Letter From a Ten-Year-Old

A slightly edited version of this article is up on Roger Ebert’s Foreign Correspondents blog over here!

*****


Dear Mr Robert Zemeckis Sir,

My name is Forrest. Not Forrest Gump, but Forrest Phoenix. I am ten years old.

I have two brothers and their names are Marty and John and Marty is twenty years old and John is six and three quarters.

I am your number one fan! I love your movies like ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Back to the Future II’ and ‘Back to the Future III’ and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ and ‘Forrest Gump’. They’re my favorites!

Even though I don’t fully understand the ‘Back to the Future’ movies and even though my parents don’t let me see some scenes from ‘Forrest Gump’, I really like those movies.

In ‘Back to the Future’, I enjoy all the time travel scenes and the skateboarding scenes and I find some scenes really really funny, especially when Doc is there! I like all the future scenes in part two, but I don’t think we will have flying cars in 2015. Oh, also in part two, there is a Pizza Hut logo on the packet, but the logo you used was the older logo but now on the boxes there is a newer logo, so that’s not right. Even though, I love the movies!

And I also enjoy ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, especially when Roger Rabbit and the Valiant detective talk and when the Valiant detective goes to the Toontown! That part is funniest! And I find how you mixed cartoons with real life amazing! (I think ‘Space Jam’ copied you, Mr Zemeckis Sir. You should sew the film.)

And I cry twice every time I see Forrest Gump, one time when Bubba dies and the other time when Forrest is talking to Jenny’s grave stone. I think that the movie has many good messages for people, like no one is stupid. When my classmates call me stupid, I proudly say ‘stupid is as stupid does’, even if I’m not clear on what it means. And I laugh in that movie a lot too, some scenes are hillarious!

But I have a question I would like to ask to you, and my mother thinks it would be a good idea to write it down and send it to you so that is what I’m doing. The question I have is why are you making your newer films using computers when you could make them using real live cameras instead?
Like I said before in my letter, I love your old movies but I don’t love your new movies so much. My mother is now telling me to say ‘no offense’ and ‘sorry’ and say the words ‘humble opinion’.

‘The Polar Express’ had fun adventure parts, but the animation was little creepy at some times. I found the girl heroine scary looking. And I got even scareder of the skiing man on the top of the train. My father is telling me to write that he was imotionaly disconnected from the movie, unlike with your other movies which you made. My mother says my father is wrong and that you were simply experymenting and that is a good thing to do. My father said he never felt for the characters. I don’t understand my parents.

And I found ‘Beowulf’ even more scarier. Marty is next to me now. He is saying that Anjelina Jolie is secksy. My mother just sent him out of the kitchen. I didn’t understand the story of ‘Beowulf’. My father says it’s good that I didn’t. I don’t know what he means. I like some parts of the movie a lot though, like the dragon scene. My mother is asking my father why you had to make the movie using motion catcher when you could have used real live cameras. My father is immittatting my mother and saying you are simply experymenting. My mother is quiet. Some times I don’t understand what grown ups are talking about, Mr Zemeckis sir.

I didn’t get to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ fully, but I know how it ends because we studied Charlie Dicken’s story in English class, and his story is the same as your movie’s. I didn’t see the full movie because John, my little brother, got scared and started crying when the ghost’s mouth bone came off when he was talking to Scoorge Scrooge.

My parents went for the movie again after, and my father says he found it uneven and unconvhincing. He says the parts with the ghost of the future should not have had those crazy 3-D ride scenes as they take away from the imotion. I don’t understand why my father is so worried about imotions. My mother is saying Scrooge’s transformation was too sudden. I don’t know what to say as I thought it was too sudden in Charlie’s story also.

Mr Zemeckis sir, I wonder why you keep making movies with motion catcher. I feel real live video is better and less scary. My father feels you are lazy to record using real live cameras. My mother always says to me if I’m lazy, I’ll become fat like Aunt Jesse, so I’m careful not to be lazy and you had better be careful too because Aunt Jesse is very fat and you’re my favorite director in the whole world and I don’t want you to become as fat as her because then you can’t make movies anymore. My mother doesn’t think you’re lazy. She thinks your experymental. My father is laughing.

I really really like you Mr Zemeckis sir. I wrote about you in my English project about who is my role model and one day I wish I can make movies like you. Only, I won’t make them using motion catcher. I want to use real live cameras like the Sony Handycam my parents have in their third drawer.
My mother is asking to me say ‘humble opinion’ again.
My father wants to add something here.

Dear Robert, I truly admire your movies. I think you’re a fantastic, cinema-changing director, really I do. It’s just after ‘The Polar Express that things have changed. I just didn’t feel that same… joyous zest in your films. I was emotionally distant from the characters. I don’t want to say anything that sounds condescending as I don’t know much about films, but I can say this: I named my first son after Marty from ‘Back to the Future’ because my wife and I loved those films. I named my second son, the little tyke who was writing this letter, Forrest, after ‘Forrest Gump’, your best movie in my opinion. We named our third son John after my father.

Thank you for your time Mr Zemeckis sir. I know you’re a busy man.
My mother read on the internet that the next Roger Rabbit movie is being made using motion catcher too!

Please, Mr Zemeckis, make real life movies again, with the same fun and joy! The seventh thing on my to-do list is: ‘See a great Robert Zemeckis film in theatres.’ If you don’t come up with one, I’ll need to find a DeLorean time machine to go back in time and see your older films in the theatre, and even though if I can find a DeLorean time machine, I don’t think I can steal Plutonium from anyone.

Sincerely yours,

Forrest B. Phoenix

Age: 10

****

I’d like to say that Forrest Phoenix is completely fictional, as are his parents and siblings; but his words stand for my thoughts and his art for itself.

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Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s–!

Back then, I could watch Max Fleischer’s Superman cartoons forever and never get bored. Today, the case is almost the same.

Oh, those films have some of the finest animation I’ve ever seen—even by today’s standards, the animation is phenomenal, right from the fluidity of the movements of the characters to the uncanny weight of the objects. The characters and objects had shadows too. Of course, back then, I was too young too care about the quality of the animation. Back then, all I cared for was Superman’s heroics. How astonished I’d get when mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent said, “This looks like a job for Superman.” At that moment, I would smile widely and try to ignore my hair standing on end. Clark Kent gets into a telephone booth—and gee-whiz, Superman comes out!

The same thing would happen in every single episode, but some how, it never got old. It always had that ability to get me excited—every time felt just as exhilarating as the first, just like when Popeye would gulp down his can of Spinach.

Superman never failed to dazzle me as he flew ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ and displayed his amazing strength– ‘more powerful than a locomotive!’. Those cartoons were really something.

Oh, and that music, oh what music! That hair-raising theme music as Superman flies into the air to save Lois Lane from the Mechanical Monsters or the city from the Mad Scientist! The delight I felt! The delight I still feel.

Those animated films made my young childhood years. They were produced in the 1940’s; I savored them in the 1990’s.

Later on, still in my very young years, I discovered the much newer animated Superman films, the ones actually made in the 90’s. This Superman was more stylistically rendered—he was all squares. The show was way more modern, and the story lines more mature and intriguing. But there’s something about old animated shorts that new ones just don’t get. Maybe it’s the magic. The new Superman cartoons didn’t quite capture all of it. And, oddly, the animation of the new cartoons doesn’t even hold a candle to that of the older ones.

All day long, I used to watch these Superman cartoons, never tiring of them. One day, my mother asked me, “Do you want to see a real Superman movie?” She went on to explain that what she was about to introduce to me was a ‘real Superman’, not an animated one.

She pushed the VHS into the player. I held my breath. A few  hours later, I was awestruck. I was spellbound. I believed a man could fly.

‘Superman: The Movie’ was released in 1978. Made on a considerably high budget for its time, it was the first of its kind—no other superhero film had been created on such a large scale. While the traditional superhero TV show would have a few bank robbers and a car chase, ‘Superman: The Movie’ went all the way; helicopter accidents, earthquakes, bridge collapses, dam explosions, nuclear bombs—and not in the noisy style we now acquaint action films with, but in a wonderful style aided by such brilliant skill, I’m not sure what words to use to describe it. Maybe the word I’m looking for is ‘charm’. It’s an old-fashioned film, sure, but that’s what makes it so appealing. It’s such a huge blockbuster, but it’s somehow– innocent.

The origin story of Superman was told with such respect to the comics and the lore. Here was an opportunity for the film to become a victim of self-parody. Instead, it took itself seriously, and yet not too much so. It managed to tell an epic story and add a great deal of wit to the proceedings.

I don’t think most people reading this might realize the significance of ‘Superman: The Movie’… it is to the superhero genre what ‘Snow White’ is to animation. It is literally the film that started the superhero film genre. Without it, there would be no ‘The Dark Knight’, no ‘Batman’, no ‘X-Men’, no ‘Iron Man’.

The special effects were outstanding, no doubt about it. Some green screen effects, wires, and optical printers all worked together almost seamlessly to make our hero fly. The theme music is, like most of John Williams’ themes, extremely memorable. The dialogue and plot is the ideal example of the superhero origin story. The look and feel of the entire film is spot on. All these things strung together like clockwork to bring out a great film.

And yes, Christopher Reeve. Christopher Reeve is Superman. And he is Clark Kent. Just Christopher Reeve. Nobody else. Christopher Reeve is Superman.

May he rest in peace.

So there I was, a little kid, gaping at the TV screen. Wow. I remember holding one of those old photo cameras and taking pictures of the TV with Superman in the frame—I loved Christopher Reeve’s ‘Superman’ that much. And a small part of me believed what I was seeing was true—a man could really fly, and he wore that costume while he was at it. My mother said it was a ‘real Superman’; I took that as, “He really exists.” Or at least I subconsciously wanted to.

But then there was my dad; he made sure he burst my bubble every time. “It’s not real, okay? It’s all a stunt.” Those words hurt me back then. Even today, I wish it was all real. I’d like to think Christopher Reeve could fly around the world in seconds. Reality, of course, is different. He died an early death after being completely paralyzed from head down.

Over time, my parents got me copies of Superman 2, 3 and 4. They tided me over, but not like the first film. Today, maturity has brought with it the realization that the sequels were no where near the original. ‘Superman II’ was decent. ‘Superman III’ was absolute crap.

‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace’ is quite surely the worst superhero film I’ve ever seen; even worse than ‘Batman & Robin’. It’s saddening to read Reeve’s thoughts on the film. He said that he knew the film wouldn’t live up to expectations with the approach  that was taken. He was contractually obliged to do the sequels, so he simply went with it and tried to give it his best. You know there’s something wrong with the film when the original film made almost a decade ago had better special effects.

One day, when I was still very young, as I switched through channels on the television, I came across another live-action Superman. This one had a different hairdo. He had a darker costume. The logo was much bigger. And yep, Lois Lane was hot.

I’m talking about ‘Lois & Clark’, the TV show. Dean Cain did a pretty good job playing Clark Kent, and Teri Hatcher was Lois Lane. It was then that  I experienced my first celebrity crush. ‘Teri Hatcher’ is quite surely the first female celeb’s name I typed into the Google Image search-bar ever. I was, what, nine, ten-years-old?

Apart from the thrill of watching Lois and Clark get intimate every now and then (keep in mind, that’s about all the intimacy I could get at that young age), Superman saving-the-day-at-the-end was a great deal of fun to watch.

I’m now the proud owner of all four seasons of ‘Lois & Clark’; nice to throw it into the DVD player every once in a while and get nostalgic. I think the show had, while not the best Superman action, the best Lois and Clark chemistry among all the Superman screen adaptations. I’m not just talking about the sex appeal, I’m talking about their interplay– the light flirting between the characters, the fun they had with Lois’s contrasting rudeness to Clark and infatuation over Superman, things like that. Now that I’m older, I realize people didn’t watch the show for Superman: they watched it for Lois and Clark.

In 2006, almost four decades after ‘Superman: The Movie’ was released, Bryan Singer’s ‘Superman Returns’ was playing in theaters the world over. Though its look, music, costumes, special effects, plot, et all were great, the film was let down by soulless, hollow acting. No amount of special effects can make up for the fact that Brandon Routh is no Christopher Reeve. He is no Superman.

And Kate Bosworth isn’t Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane at all. And she isn’t even anywhere as hot as Teri Hatcher. Just sayin’.

After ‘Superman Returns’ didn’t meet the expectations of the big heads at Warner Bros., there have been numerous rumors and stories being thrown around. Mark Millar wanted to do something with Superman. David S. Goyer was attached to a reboot of sorts. Before ‘Superman Returns’, Nicolas Cage was trying hard to get the role (he’s a huge Supe fan– he named his son Kal-El, Superman’s Krypton name!).

At present, Christopher Nolan (need I say this? The director of ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Inception’) and his brother Johnathan Nolan are doing early work on a Superman film. While I am happy that one of my favorite directors is giving Superman his chance to fly on the big screen again, I wonder: Christopher Nolan’s films are all plot and no humor or wit. Can I accept a Superman film without the excellent wit of the first film?

Sometime in the past three years, I got over Superman. ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ kept me occupied. ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Iron Man’ took me over.

And eventually, my whole craze for superhero films in general died down. I kept myself busy with other films. I was no longer in love with the genre.

Recently, I decided to skim through the first Superman film again. For old times’ sake.

I’m in love with it again.

Say what you want to say about Superman being too powerful, too boring, to0 gay. Say he’s no Batman, say he’s not Iron Man. The thing is– he isn’t. He’s Superman, and that’s all he needs to be. And he’s my superhero, right down to the red underwear.

And you know what I’ve realized? Twenty years from now, I might have outgrown ‘The Dark Knight’ and the ‘X-Men’ and ‘Spider-Man’ and what not. But, mark my words, I don’t think it is possible for me to ever outgrow ‘Superman: The Movie’.

How can you outgrow the thing that made your childhood?

(Christopher Reeve was born on September 25th 1952. Six days ago. He died on October 10th, 2004. Nine days from now.)

– Cinematic Jackass, signing off.

http://www.youtube.com/v/arG12Bld6Ag?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0

Episode 1 of Max Fleischer’s ‘Superman’

*****

UPDATE : Deadline and Heat Vision are now reporting that Zack Snyder (of Dawn of the Dead, 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) has been officially chosen to direct The Man of Steel, with final negotiations currently taking place this week with Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. David S. Goyer is working on the screenplay.

Is this good news? Some of you may think so. Some of might not. I, for one, am going to wait it out and see what happens. I have mixed feelings about this. I mean, I really really loved ‘Watchmen’. I think it was very underrated. In fact, I think it’s the model for superhero graphic novel adaptations. It got the look right, it was intriguing… I’d go far enough to call it a masterpiece. Yes, I know, you disagree.

Having said that, I don’t know if Snyder is the right choice for an all-good superhero like Superman. I mean, can a man in blue spandex and a red shorts work with Snyder’s trademark style?

*****

Read an alternative version of this article that at Roger Ebert’s Far Flung Correspondents site here!


Movie Review: STEP UP 3-D (2010)

Directed by Jon Chu
Starring Rick Malambri, Adam Sevani, Sharni Vinson, Alyson Stoner

It seems to be a rule of the thumb that teen dance and music flicks have to follow certain guidelines and regulations. One of the main characters has to be nerdy or shy, only to undergo a dramatic transformation by the end of the film. The main characters just have to be reasonably attractive. There will be a villain having no motive in life but to bring down said main characters (and he might have one or two sidekicks to do his evil bidding). There will be misunderstandings and obstacles, causing the group of good guys to disband, only to be brought back together near the ending after a unanimous epiphany that they can’t do without each other. The guy will get the girl eventually (or vice versa, depending on who’s initially after whom), ending the whole film in a classy kiss. And most important; if there is a competition or something of the sort involved in the story: The Good Guys. Always. Win. ALWAYS.

Since these films, in most cases to say the least, are limited by these guidelines, there is no room for any uncertainty. There is no room for suspense. There is no room for guessing what’s going to happen next as you, quite surely, already know what’s going to happen. And as a result, there is no cause for interest or care.

‘STEP UP 3-D’ is almost excessively pedantic with the way it adheres to the clichés of its genre. There is not a single unpredictable bone in its skeleton. This is a story we’ve been told a hundred times before. I haven’t even seen the first two ‘Step Up’ films and I found the plot tiresome, and I’ve been told it’s more or less the same plot all over again.

Aside from being predictable, it’s emotionally immature. The characters aren’t the type of people that occupy the real world—no one in the real world is all-good or all-bad. In ‘Step Up 3-D’, the good-guys group ‘The Pirates’ consists of, well, all-good guys (except for those overly ambitious members who find their way to the all-bad team, ‘The Samurais’.)

There isn’t too much character depth. In fact, the film’s so shallow I don’t feel the need to start describing the characters as they’re all pretty boring. There’s the guy who has to give up dance, but secretly keeps at it (Moose). There’s the girl who is the guy’s just-best-friend, but she’s secretly in love with him (Camille). There’s the team leader who secretly loves filmmaking (Luke). There’s the girl who falls in love with the team leader (Natalie) (betrayals, however, break them apart… but obviously they end up together in the end. Remember the rule?)

But though the characters are boring, I found the actors to be pretty likable. There’s the young Adam Sevani playing Moose, who was pretty good and did the best he could with the material he was given. I enjoyed most of his scenes, and somehow instinctively rooted for him. Camille was played Alyson Stoner, a good young actress who needs to find films better than this one and the ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ flicks. Rick Malambri, who’s a good looking guy, plays Luke, and I see in him a lot of potential to take on more mature, dramatic roles. Sharni Vinson stars as Natalie, and she’s pleasant enough, and she’s eye-candy for all the panting boys too. I wonder, why aren’t the good guys ever ugly? Do you need to look good to be good? Why is that most of the good guys need to be gorgeous? Oh, I know why. Remember the rule?

And if you think the main characters are boring (This is the third time I’ve said that), the bad guys are infinitely more so. They are so excruciatingly uninteresting, they’re almost not even worth mentioning. In these films, they always are. All they wanna do is mess with the good guys. As I write this, I feel the words ‘protagonist’ and ‘antagonist’ would provide me with the air of a good writer more efficiently than ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’, but these characters are so poor they don’t even deserve those words.

By now, you’re thinking one of three things about me: 1. I’m an idiot for hating this awesome dance film. 2. I’m an idiot for judging a dance film based on its emotional power and story telling strengths. 3. I’m right.

If you’re thinking no. 1, you can stop reading right here. No. 2, keep reading, I will explain. No. 3, you’re my new best friend.

It might appear I didn’t like this film at all, but actually I did. Ignoring its major flaws, you’ll actually enjoy it. Why? The oh-so stunning visuals.

The dance sequences are absolutely spectacular. Their choreography is just solid. Some of the steps seemed to defy everything that Newton stated, and what’s more, I’m pretty sure it’s all real, un-aided by the digital touch. There was such an awesome, zestful energy throughout all of the dance sequences, and I was always in admiration of how much practice and dedication must’ve been poured into perfecting all the moves and coming out with those awesome visuals, if not much of a plot.

There were times when I felt the rival group was dancing better than the good-guys group, but what the heck, the good guys won anyways. Always. Remember the rule?

Most of the songs that accompanied the dances were hip-hop and pop, the kinds of song I eagerly avoid on the radio. However, I didn’t mind them here as the dances were superb. There came tiny points of time where I was passively, inattentively staring at the screen as they danced on, but that was only now and then.

If I had to pick out one dance sequence that had me smiling through and through, it wouldn’t be any of the competition rounds, it wouldn’t be the climax… it would be one sweet little sequence in which the two young to-be lovers Moose and Camille dance happily to a remix of Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers on one of the quainter streets of New York. (To know of my musical movie tastes is to know that I am in love with Gene Kelly’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ dance.) Adam Sevani and Alyson Stoner emulated Gene Kelly quite well, making what was one of the more charming sequences in the film. Oh, how could I forget. Just like a lot of Kelly’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ sequence, the whole sequence was carried on in one continuous shot!

While reviewing 3-D films, I generally review the entire film just like I would a 2-D one and then end with a tiny paragraph on how good (or rather bad) the 3-D was. I recommended very lightly the 3-D version of the overhyped ‘Avatar’. I told people to watch the excellent ‘Up’ and the wonderful ‘Coraline’ in 2-D rather than in 3-D. I told people not to watch ‘A Christmas Carol’ regardless of the D’s. And yet, I find myself in an unprecedented position… I find myself recommending to you nothing less than the 3-D version of this film. Watch this film with the glasses on or don’t watch it at all. I’ve seen a great many 3-D films, and I can say that I haven’t seen it used more effectively than in this film.

Normally, 3-D is distraction from the plot, but seeing as this film hasn’t one, that wasn’t a problem. And normally, the 3-D effect wears off ten to twenty minutes into the movie, but not here. There are always the awesome dances to remind you of the 3-D, and that’s not a bad thing. Bubbles, dust, splashing water, party confetti, laser lights, all are utilized to great effect. Who’d have know a group of teenagers dancing on a stage would be more effective than blue motion-captured aliens riding flying creatures?

Do I recommend this film to you? I’m not really sure. If you liked the first two, I reckon you’d love this. I read online it’s got better critical reviews than the first two. If you hate dance movies, I don’t see why you’d need to watch this, save for the choreography and the 3-D.

Before I’m accused of spoiling the movie for you by revealing that they win the competition at the end and that the guys get the girls, let me remind you: you were already supposed to know all that. Remember the rule?

– Cinematic Jackass, signing off 🙂


On INCEPTION’s BIGGEST Plot Hole


IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN INCEPTION, STOP READING BECAUSE:

A. You’d rather catch a cab and get to the nearest theatre to watch it!

B. The article below contains several spoilers.

My Favorite 'Inception' Poster

C. If you haven’t seen it, it won’t make much sense anyway.

I’ve written over and over on this blog that I’m a great admirer of Christopher Nolan’s latest film ‘Inception’. I wrote that it’s “one of the best sci-fi films I have ever seen. It’s a technical masterpiece, with its brilliant special effects and visuals, and a masterwork of editing and concept. The film is an extraordinary one, and that’s an adjective I use very selectively.”

Those statements of mine are subject to opinion… you may have liked it, you may have hated it. However, you cannot deny the fact that it is one of the most talked about films in recent memory.

People keep explaining their theories, debating them out, and watching and re-watching that film over and over again. “The top keeps spinning,”. “No, it stops. You can hear a toppling sound.” “The part in Mombasa has to be a dream!”. “No, it’s impossible. Someone is ‘incepting’ Cobb himself!”. “Who’s dream are they in during that scene?”. “Isn’t that kick thing wrong at the climax?”… It’s a film so mesmerizing and so high-concept, it’ll be debated over and restudied for years to come.

Who'd have know a tiny little top would create such a ruckus?

Did Cobb’s totem, the top, really fall over? Yes, some say. It is said you can hear the sound of the top topple as the screen cuts to black at the end. I’ve caught the film thrice on the big screen, but I’m quite sure I heard no such sound. Some others say that the top does keep spinning. Sure, it wobbles a bit, but it keeps spinning, they say.

And then they question; “How come the children are wearing the same clothes? How come they haven’t aged? It’s obviously a dream!” (To these claims, I say, “The girl is wearing slightly different clothes, and there are two pairs of children listed in the cast of the film, implying the children are supposed to have appeared older in the last shots).

An English teacher of mine, another huge fan of the film, told me she heard there was an after-credits scene in which the top confusion would probably be resolved. I waited for seven minutes after the screen cut to black… nothing; no after-credits scene.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, 'the most skilled extractor'

Since the film takes place in the world of dreams and involves characters going layers and layers in and out of labyrinthine dreams, you can never be too sure about any theories. There’s limitless possibilities. The whole thing might be a dream, just the scenes after Cobb’s sedation test with Yusuf might be dreams, Cobb might still be in limbo, the whole thing might be reality. You never know, do you? That’s the special thing about Nolan’s films… while other blockbusters tend to over-explain their ideas, Nolan literally ‘incepts’ the audience. And, like they say in the film, an idea can grow, and it can grow differently in different individuals

I’d like to believe Cobb’s awake and very well in the real world. But then again, that’s what I’d like to believe. I’m not too sure. And contrary to my initial beliefs, repeat viewings only opened up new ideas; they didn’t resolve my confusions. Perhaps that’s what Nolan had in mind when he littered the film with a plethora of plot possibilities.

Apart from trying to figure out the ‘absolute’ meaning of the film (it’s likely there isn’t one), the online community is scrutinizing and dissecting the film and publishing lists of ‘Inception Goofs and Plot Holes’. Having read quite a few pages claiming to find mistakes in the film, I find that most of these pages are mistakes themselves. Some of the so-called mistakes are ridiculously identified. Some find that Saito being so old in Limbo, while Cobb is so young, is a goof. Some claim that Fischer not recognizing Saito is a goof. These are NOT goofs, and I don’t think I’m going to take the trouble to explain why.

On Facebook, I came across an application: ‘The Ten Stupid Mistakes of Inception.’ I was expecting something a bit juicier than, “In the scene where Yusuf is introduced, a gray cat is seen investigating a large jar behind him. In subsequent shots the cat both disappears and reappears.” All ten of those goofs were petty continuity errors and the like. All movies have continuity errors, so that was a very redundant list.

Okay, I’ve ranted enough. Let’s get to what I’m writing this article for. I’m surprised that after going through hundreds of thousands of words on ‘Inception’, I didn’t find much about the key plot holes I found in the film.

While I realized most of the plot holes I had identified weren’t real plot holes over the second and third viewings of the film, these plot holes have remained through repeat viewings:

In the movie, time in the dream world is faster than time in the real world because the mind works and processes information faster in the dream state. Fair enough. But if you go four layers deep, how fast must your mind be working?! Your mind works twenty times faster when you’re dreaming because it works at its full capacity when asleep. But if you dream in the dream, how can your mind work any faster? I find it illogical that a mind works faster and faster, and that too at a fixed constant ratio, as you go further and further into dream levels. Your brain’s capacity is not limitless. Can the brain work at a higher capacity than its full capacity?
That’s a small goof, compared to what follows.

This is the goof-up that shocked me the most, simply because I did not find it discussed anywhere online, and I think it’s pretty major. Of course, I could be terribly wrong about this. If I am, please comment, and I will happily stand corrected. Or at least I’ll appear so.

The SLEEPING Body is 'kicked' to wake up the dreamer

The Biggest Plot Hole:

In the beginning of the film (Cobb and Arthur’s first operation: to steal those ideas from Saito), we are informed that if the sleeping body gets the kick (either pushed into water or made to sense to fall), the person wakes up. Later on, while testing the sedative on Arthur, they show us that pushing Arthur’s chair (the one on which he’s asleep) causes him to fall and hence wakes him up from the dream.

But the climax of the film just changes everything.

In the fourth level, Limbo, Ariadne jumps off the building… she gets kicked by the fall, only to wake up in the third level, the snowy mountain fortress. Then the fortress floor breaks down, kicking her into the hotel level, where she’s in the lift. The lift crashes upwards, creating the sensation of falling in the lift, hence kicking them into the previous level, the rainy downtown area, where the van finally falls into the water.

That’s the goof right there. All this while, we’ve been told that the sleeping body is kicked, or made to fall, to wake the dreamer up. But in that sequence at the climax, the PERSON IN THE DREAM is made to fall to wake up, not the sleeping body! Illustrative example: In the beginning of the movie, Cobb is in a dream. The sleeping Cobb gets pushed into a tub of water to get the kick and wake up. Here, the SLEEPING BODY gets the kick. Whereas, in the climax, Ariadne, who is in the dream (limbo),  jumps off the building. The SLEEPING Ariadne isn’t getting the kick here, but rather her dreaming self. Get it?

According to me, that sequence at the climax should’ve worked out this way:
Ariadne is in Limbo. The floor of the fortress breaks, waking her up from Limbo. Then the hotel lift crashes, waking her up from the fortress. And then, the van crashes into the water, waking her up from the hotel level.
I hope I was clear, as this stuff isn’t too easy to get across clearly.

But even goof-up like that doesn’t stop me from thinking this film was just brilliant. Even if you have problems with the fact that the main characters have no morals (c’mon, they’re tampering with people’s minds here), or that they have no motives (Why exactly are Arthur, Eames and Ariadne doing this?), or that the plot is too labyrinthine in nature, you’ve gotta admire the scope of the plot, the visuals and the concept. I sure did. Regardless of whether the top keeps spinning.

***

To read my article ‘On ‘INCEPTION’, and IMDB’s Top 250 List Being Total Crap’, click here.

To read my article on other great films about dreams, click here.

To view a trailer I made for the film, modeled after the films of the 50’s, click here.

– Cinematic Jackass, signing off! 😀


On DREAMS (and Dreams Captured on Film)

“Sanity is a madness put to good uses; waking life is a dream controlled.” – Santayana

Jacob's dream of a ladder of angels (painting by Michael Willmann)

No one is certain about dreams. There isn’t a universally accepted definition of dreams. Many people don’t understand, or heck, even remember, their own dreams. The whole idea behind dreams isn’t wholly understood. My moseying around different blogs and websites brought me a bit of knowledge about the subject. I read there are two kinds of dreams: Authentic and Illusory.

Authentic dreams are those that reflect actual memories and experiences of the dreamer. I guess that would mean they stick to the laws of physics and stuff too. Illusory dreams, on the other hand, contain impossible, incongruent, or bizarre content.

I guess my brain must be messily wired or something, as I have, or atleast remember having, mainly illusory dreams. I had a dream in which the world tilted and all the water on it flowed to one side. In my dreams, people transform into one another and not much makes sense. I had a dream, only two nights ago, in which I was admitted in a hospital and they served me stray dogs for meals. Now this is interesting… as I was admitted in a hospital only a few days ago, and there’s always stray dogs barking outside, here in Bangalore. Dreams, as you know, are stemmed from our experiences and memories.

The Dreamer

Aside from memories, I read that the drugs you take could affect your dreams too. And your health condition. And several other things. I heard somewhere that you could reach an age where you can’t dream anymore. And that a small population of people on this planet dream solely in black and white.

Have you ever wondered why people say, “Never give up on your dreams,”, or, “It’s my dream to become a pilot,” when it actually doesn’t make sense when you think about it? Why are dreams synonymous with goals? What separates a dream from a nightmare?

I find all of this fascinating. Dreams.

I especially like this line from Wikipedia’s page on dreams:
“Dreams have been described physiologically as a response to neural processes during sleep, psychologically as reflections of the subconscious, and spiritually as messages fromgods, the deceased, predictions of the future or from the Soul, for symbology is the language of the Soul.”

I remember seeing a play in our school once; ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. The show director had ripped off Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical. In it, a character Joseph interprets the dreams of the Pharaoh, and saves Egypt. How? Apparently, the Pharaoh’s dreams are predictions of future events. I’m quite sure that dreams don’t predict the future… but do they? We can never be sure, can we? Who can?

Okay, knowing me, you’d know this would end up being a talk about movies. Movies have endlessly employed the ‘dream sequence’ trip, either for dramatic effect, for psychological exploration, or just for those goddamn cheap thrills.

Rosemary has a dream in which a dark figure raped her. She wakes up in terror, only to find it was 'just a dream'. But... how come there are scars on her back? 'ROSEMARY'S BABY'

By cheap thrills, I refer to those corny horror movies in which a character gets stabbed by a creepy kook, only to wake up and find, ‘Oh, it’s just a dream!’ These are dream sequences of the worst kind; just to induce momentary shudders, false alarms.

Dream sequences can be used effectively in horror movies though. Take the example of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, an excellent 1968 thriller (Roman Polanski’s Hollywood debut) in which the protagonist Rosemary is haunted by dreams that actually mean something to the story, including that terrifying dream in which she is raped by Satan. Those kind of dream sequences plant the seed of doubt in your mind that keeps growing throughout the movie… “Did that really happen? Or was it just a dream?” Unfortunately, horror movies rarely employ dream sequences worthily.

The Dream Sequence from Hitchcock's black-and-white 'SPELLBOUND'

Then I’ve seen the dream sequence applied to show the audience flashbacks, incidents from the characters’ past. Another thriller that effectively and prominently uses such the dream sequence is Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’ (1945), a film I saw only yesterday. I really liked the movie as it keeps you guessing throughout. I shall not get into the workings of the plot; all you need to know for now is that it is the story of a man who is suffering from memory loss and a guilt complex; and there’s a scene in which two doctors interpret one of his dreams to find some hints about his past. I thought that was ingenious. And oh, how wonderfully the plot works as well; the film is a true mystery.

The dream sequence in ‘Spellbound’ was designed by renowned artist Salvador Dali, so you can imagine how beautiful and surreal the whole sequence was. It was extremely effective, and had the real feel of a dream; and I don’t think I’ve seen a film in which one single dream sequence is so very important to the plot.

'SHUTTER ISLAND'

Another thriller that utilized dreams cleverly is ‘Shutter Island’, Martin Scorsese’s latest film. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Teddy, experiences hallucinations and dreams which at first seem incoherent, but by the time the climax hits you, you’ll realize that all the little pieces of dreams and visions form a bigger puzzle. It was a very powerful movie, and I absolutely loved the dream sequences in it; they were so much like real dreams, they were bold, memorable images, and they all had some meaning. I urge everybody to watch this psychological thriller.

Apart from movies that have dreams in them, there are movies about dreams themselves.

My favorite shot from 'WAKING LIFE'

A friend of mine recommended a movie, ‘Waking Life’, to me, simply because it was created using a process known as rotoscopy, by which real-life footage is made to look like animation. It’s somewhat like the 2-D artist’s version of the 3-D artist’s motion capture techniques. ‘Waking Life’ is one of the best looking films I’ve seen. The images are memorable and very dream-like, with characters’ features constantly shifting and evolving. The film follows a man who’s in a constant lucid dream-state. A lucid dream is simply one in which the dreamer knows he’s dreaming. So this man keeps meeting people in his dreams who converse with him. The film doesn’t have any plot… it’s simply these conversations with strangers (or are they?) and friends in his dreams that keeps the film going. And some of these conversations are absolutely fascinating. The conversations flow into each other, covering various aspects of philosophy, psychology and the human mind. And though some of these conversations don’t make sense at first, repeat viewings will give you new insights.  Let me give you some examples…

Two people converse, 'WAKING LIFE'

“The trick is to combine your waking rational abilities with the infinite possibilities of your dreams. Because, if you can do that, you can do anything. The worst mistake that you can make is to think you’re alive when really you’re asleep in life’s waiting room. Did you ever have a job that you hated and worked real hard at? A long, hard day of work. Finally you get to go home, get in bed, close your eyes and immediately you wake up and realize… that the whole day at work had been a dream. It’s bad enough that you sell your waking life for minimum wage, but now they get your dreams for free.”

“(I’ve been thinking) about reincarnation and where all the new souls come through over time. Everybody says they have been the reincarnation of Cleopatra or Alexander The Great. I always want to tell them they were probably some dumb fuck like everybody else.”

It’s an absolutely brilliant film, and I advise all thinkers out there to watch it. Do note, most people who’ve fed on pulp fiction and blockbusters might find it pretentious and boring.

'THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP'

There’s another film, ‘The Science of Sleep’, which analyses the nature of dreams. I haven’t seen the whole film yet, but whatever I saw of it was quite interesting. The film follows an imaginative man who dreams a bit too much, if you ask me. The opening lines of the film grabbed me instantly: We are shown the main character, Stephane, as he hosts a cookery show in his dreams.

“Hi, and welcome back to another episode of “Télévision Educative”. Tonight, I’ll show you how dreams are prepared. People think it’s a very simple and easy process but it’s a bit more complicated than that. As you can see, a very delicate combination of complex ingredients is the key. First, we put in some random thoughts. And then, we add a little bit of reminiscences of the day… mixed with some memories from the past… Love, friendships, relationships… and all those “ships”, together with songs you heard during the day, things you saw, and also, uh… personal… Okay, I think it’s done.”

This film was directed by Michel Gondry, who also directed the excellent ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, another high concept psychological film.

Speaking of high concept psychological films…
When you read the words ‘Dreams’ and ‘Film’ in the title of this post, you were asking for ‘Inception’, weren’t you?
Of course you were.

The Bending of Paris, 'INCEPTION'

My whole interest in dreams was recently renewed by ‘Inception’, a film that took the ‘dream sequence’ and applied it to its plot unlike ever before. Sure, ‘The Matrix’ also has several people in a shared virtual world, but that was a computer programme… this is a dream. And when you talk about dream, you’re talking about endless possibilities. That’s why films employ dream sequences so much—you can do anything to your characters, or show anything your audiences, in a dream sequence.

‘Inception’, as you probably know, follows a group of thieves who extract information from the subconscious mind of their victims while they dream. I won’t go into the details of the plot as they are too tedious to explain, and because you’ve probably already seen that incredible film.

Joseph Gordon-Lewitt in the Corridor Fight from 'INCEPTION'

I loved the film’s theories on dreams…

  • The theory about dream time running faster than real time as your mind works faster when asleep.
  • The theory about changes in the real world affecting the dream, like splashing water.
  • The idea behind the totems.
  • The idea behind people bringing projections of their subconscious into the dream space.
  • I enjoyed how they applied impossible architecture and physics into the film too… especially the Penrose steps and the bending of Paris. Oh, how could I forget. That excellent hotel corridor fight.

The film challenged audiences to keep track with it’s dream-in-a-dream-in-a-dream-in-a-dream-and-so-on plot. And it begs the question… “How do we know we’re awake? What if we’re still dreaming?” What if?

I wrote somewhere in this article that dreams are based on a person’s past experiences and memories. Isn’t interesting to wonder what a baby dreams about in all its hours of sleep? Maybe it dreams of its experiences in the womb? The music the mother listened to while pregnant? Race memories? I don’t know. But then again, who knows?

Who knows?

– Cinematic Jackass, signing off

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The Dream Sequence from ‘SPELLBOUND’ (1945)

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The Trailer of ‘WAKING  LIFE’

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A Clip from ‘INCEPTION’

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On Marvel’s ‘AVENGERS’ Film Potentially Being a Disaster

Wikipedia, the website I get most utterly lost on because it is oh-so enriching, says the following:

“‘The Avengers’ is the title planned for an American superhero film yet to be produced by Marvel Studios. It was announced in April 2005 and is to be based upon the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. The film is intended to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which crosses over several Marvel superhero films including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo are under contract to star, with Joss Whedon attached to direct a script written by Zak Penn and himself. The Avengers has an announced release date of May 4, 2012 in 3-D.”

There, I tactfully avoided explaining all that stuff to you myself. As if you didn’t know. Did you? You had better.

Marvel’s film division has been dropping off hints of an impending superhero-team movie, ‘The Avengers’, in their recent films. The after-credits scene of the great ‘Iron Man’ introduced us to Nick Fury. The bar scene in the pretty mediocre ‘The Incredible Hulk’ in which Tony Stark conversed with General Ross again hinted at the upcoming ‘Avengers’ film. Then Marvel started announcing release dates for Cap’s film debut, ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (starring Chris Evans, who played ‘The Human Torch’ in those ridiculous ‘Fantastic 4’ movies) and the ‘Thor’ film, which I’m very wary about.

And yes, the mother load. ‘The Avengers’. The first major superhero-team film. Sigh.

I have this gut feeling that the film is going to be a major letdown. An ensemble superhero flick could have billions of shortcomings: not enough character development for each hero, the heroes not gelling together (C’mon, Iron Man and Thor? That’s like King Kong and the Tooth Fairy)… The concept of an ensemble superhero film might have worked in the comics, but I just have this feeling it’ll make for cinematic trash.

I was recently moseying the internet when I came across a rather shocking rumor. DC is coming up with a Justice League film. It’s just a rumor, but you never know…

I have a vision of Marvel fans claiming that “DC copied Marvel! They made an ensemble superhero flick ‘Justice League’ after ‘The Avengers’!” And a lot of space online will be used up in debating and comparing the two; and more sequels will exhaust more words and space.

Oh wait, I have a more vivid vision: ‘The Avengers’, being the first of its kind, will do well at the box office, even though it probably will be a dumb ‘Fantastic Four’-ish film. Sure, it’ll make billions at the box office and people rave about it online. Over time though, like ‘Iron Man 2’, people will see its mediocrity.

Anyways, so the box office figures of ‘The Avengers’ will be huge, exciting producers who can’t tell their hands from their legs to make more sequels and prequels… and eventually, the follow-ups will suffer from sequelitis (and prequelitis (?) if they come up with prequels. Remember, you heard that word first here 😀 ).

And then, just when the studio execs realize that the films they’ve come up with aren’t good, there’ll be reboots. Take the case of the ‘Spider-Man’ franchise.

And what’s worse, DC would release their ‘Justice League’ film, and the same would follow. And I don’t want DC to mess up as I absolutely love ‘The Dark Knight’ (it’s one of the best blockbusters made in recent years) and I’m a childhood Christopher Reeve ‘Superman’ fan (although maturity has brought with it the realization that ‘Superman 3’ and ‘4’ sucked).

And if there is a Justice League film in the works, how will Christopher Nolan’s brilliant interpretation of Batman fit into the ensemble superhero world?

I’m liking this idea even less just answering that question.

Yep, I know this is a dumb, pessimistic, biased assumption, but I hate the idea of group superhero films, for the above mentioned reasons.

End of pessimistic rant.

– Cinematic Jackass, signing off


On ‘INCEPTION’, and IMDB’s Top 250 List Being Total Crap

Here’s this year’s ‘Avatar’. The movie everyone is talking about. ‘Inception’. If you haven’t seen it yet, what in heaven’s name are you doing on this blog? Jump into a cab and get to a cinema quick!

Like I was saying, ‘Inception’ is, arguably, one of the most talked about movie in years. People keep explaining their theories, debating them out, and watching and re-watching that great film over and over again. “The top keeps spinning,”. “No, it stops. You can hear a toppling sound.” “The part in Mombasa has to be a dream!”. “No, it’s impossible. Someone is ‘incepting’ Cobb himself!”. “Who’s dream are they in during that scene?”. “Isn’t that kick thing wrong at the climax?”… It’s a film so mesmerizing and so high-concept, it’ll be debated over and restudied for years to come. It’s got some of the best actors in the business, it has the best cinematography, editing and special effects I’ve seen on the big screen in a while, and it’s got that awe-inspiring title attached to it : “From Christopher Nolan, the Director of ‘The Dark Knight’”. Now that isn’t something to be taken lightly.

And yeah, it obviously was destined to make a lot of money, what with ‘The Dark Knight”s $1 Billion box office draw (As I write this, ‘Inception’ is sitting on $560 million, which is exceptionally high for a non-adaptation, non-sequel film).

Nolan always made great films that were too complicated for mainstream audiences, but this time around, he’s doing it on a larger budget, so regardless of whether or not the viewers get a complete understanding of that balancing act of a plot, they will surely have a great time with all the action and the visuals and stuff. To add to the film’s achievements, it’s got a respectable 87% positive rating on RottenTomatoes.com. And I read a lot of Oscar buzz articles already. Fair enough.

These are true testaments to ‘INCEPTION”s quality. But not its 9.3/10 rating on the Internet Movie Database, IMDB.com. You cannot trust IMDB’s Top 250 Movies list at all. I think it’s one of the most inaccurate movie lists in existence, and I’ll give you three good reasons you should think so too:

1. Extreme Opinions:

If a little girl, let’s say an absolute fanatic, enjoyed ‘High School Musical’, she’d foolishly give it a 10/10, when anyone who knows squat about cinema knows HSM isn’t exactly the epitome of musical-film-making. On the other hand, a pubescent boy might give it a zero. See what I mean by extreme opinions? The judgement of anything, be it a book or a movie, must be done fairly and relatively. Isn’t this reason enough? Not really, I know.

2. Initial Hype:

The second ‘Avatar’ released, it was way up in that list. Why? Unsuspecting people, caught up in all the hype, voted 10s for it. “The cinematic masterpiece of our generation; the biggest adventure of all time,” they’d read here and there and get their opinions disoriented. Heck, even initial reviews were grossly enthusiastic, until time passed and people saw what the movie really was… a visually brilliant film with a plot as predictable as a chick-flick’s. If you keep a track of any recent film’s ratings, you’ll see significant drops over time. ‘Inception’ is number three today. Check a month from now. It might be a two digit, or maybe even a three digit number. Still not reason enough?

3. The Dark Knight Controversy…

‘The Dark Knight’ was, and is, one of my favorite movies of all time. But there’s a little story to be told to you that might just change your mind about IMDB’s list.

I’ve sourced the following from a website called ‘strat.in’

1. In April 2008, The Godfather I was the best rated movie in at that time.The Top 3 movies on this date were :

  1. The Godfather I
  2. The Shawshank Redemption
  3. The Godfather II

2. TDK is released. It exceeds all the fans’ expectations . The Batman fans go crazy with all of them giving 10/10 rating for the movie.

3. Still the movie could not attain the highest rating on IMDb.

4. The only way for TDK to move up is by voting down The Godfather I.

5. All the Batman fans start hate-voting The Godfather I.  A hate vote is a vote given to a movie solely to decrease its rating vis-a-via one’s favourite movie. In IMDb a hate vote is a 1/10 vote. Listed below are the percentages of hate votes for a few IMDb top 10 movies…

If you notice, The Godfather I has an artificially high percentage of hate votes. These votes were given by the Batman fans to bring it down from the no.1 spot. The Godfather fell down from no. 1 not to 2 but to 3. TDK went up to 1 momentarily for a few weeks. The Shawshank redemption stayed at the same 2nd position.

6. Weeks passed and people started realizing that TDK at IMDb no.1 is a fad and it is not the best movie ever made. So votes are corrected to the lower side and TDK starts falling. (Current rank of TDK is 11)

7. Though TDK fell from 1 to 11 , The Godfather could not regain the 1st rank. The damage is done. The hate votes still remain. Nothing can be done about them.

8. The Shawshank Redemption filled the no.1 slot now that TDK has fallen and currently voted by the IMDb users as the Best movie ever made.

***

So you can’t trust IMDB’s ratings AT ALL.

And you know what? Ask yourself… is ‘Inception’ really the third best film ever made?

Cause I can name a hundred better ones. ‘The Dark Knight’ included.

–  Cinematic Jackass, signing off.