Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inception review-type thingy

I’m not going to write anything extensive about the movie itself, but if you haven’t seen the movie yet I would suggest you not read this post until you do. It’s a very good movie, and the less you know going into it, the happier you’ll be at the end of it.

You probably know I’m a big Christopher Nolan fan, and as such you probably know how excited I was about this movie. The only movie I can compare it to in terms of my level of excitement is the Dark Knight, a movie I still love and still can’t believe exceeded my expectations. In my mind, Nolan has never made a bad movie, and the only movie he has made that is anything less than great is Insomnia, but even that is still pretty damn good.

I know the reason why I watch as many movies as I do. I always suspected this was the reason, but Inception really hammered it home to me. I don’t know if this is something normal people get, but every once in a while when a movie completely connects with me, I get an overwhelming feeling of numbness as it ends. This can happen to a lesser extent with a lot of movies… just about any movie I really like can send a shiver down my spine at a particularly great moment. But this feeling is different from that. It’s like a thousand spine shivers going right into your head, and all you can think about is what you just watched. The Dark Knight gave me this feeling two years ago, Memento did way back when I was in high school, and now Inception has given me this feeling more powerfully than any movie before it.

When the movie ended, I made my way outside of the theatre, and I just had to sit down again for a few minutes. My brain had been turned to mush. The most beautiful thing about Inception is how it can be as deep as you want it to be: it’s a movie about reality that puts you in the central character’s shoes. Depending on your reading of the film, YOU are the central character. As something that was marketed as too intelligent for most, and reviewers worrying about the casual film fan being able to follow the plot, Inception is remarkable. As much as is happening at any given moment of the movie, you are never lost. It’s incredible. Never was I confused as to what was going on, and the only time I was disoriented were in the very beginning, when it is clear that Nolan and company don’t want you to know what is happening.

Nolan is a master of populist entertainment: his movies are very ‘smart,’ but they are also easy to follow and well liked by the casual moviegoer. He has said that he has always wanted to make big action films, and I think that is what allows him to make movies that connect with so many people. There are many talking points in each of his movies should you want to read into them, but they also function as an entertaining movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon when you’re hung over on the couch. I could watch Inception and talk about my opinions on it for hours afterward, or I could just watch it while falling in and out of sleep and still follow and love it. You always know you’re watching something good, but how much you want to take from it is up to you. And I took a lot away from Inception, only a little bit of which I will talk about here.

Nolan is unmatched when it comes to ending his movies well, and I think that is a huge asset to him. Since Batman Begins, the endings of his movies have always built and built and built on each other until there is one moment and the audience finally gets released from the world they have likely become quite invested in. A movie with a memorable last shot will keep you thinking about it long after the movie is done, and I think Nolan is aware of this. His movies don’t fade out, they cut to black, and then you’re sitting in your seat consumed by the final images. Think of the final shot (and line) of Memento, the cuts to black in his Batman films, the reveal in the Prestige, and of course Inception.

The last shot of Inception is perfect, and exactly what I would expect from Nolan. It doesn’t give a concrete answer, just like Memento and the Dark Knight leave their ideas open for interpretation. My reading of Inception is that it is a dream, and all of the main characters are parts of Nolan’s creative personality. Cobb is a stand-in for Nolan himself, and Nolan’s films are his dreams. Again, I don’t know the man so I can’t say for sure, but it just feels like that to me. It is a fairly simple reading to say that Inception is about filmmaking and creativity, but that was what I thought about it. And this allows me to connect with it more, because I want to do what Nolan does.

His movies are not without their criticisms, however. His characters are never particularly strong, and I rarely care about them all that much. His Batman films are a bit different in this regard, as I want Batman to succeed, but that is partially due to pre-existing attachments to the character. Also, all of his female characters seem to be there to serve the story of the male characters. But, Nolan’s movies aren’t about characters.

Each of his films can be broken down into a short phrase, and all of those phrases have to do with the human mind. Memento is about memory constructing our reality, the Prestige obsession, Batman Begins fear, The Dark Knight insanity (among other themes), and Inception again about how we construct our reality although this time without a focus on memory. Nolan’s movies aren’t about their characters, they’re about our minds. And maybe that’s how his movies can connect with so many people. Or maybe it’s something else, I don’t really know.

Towards the end of Inception, there is a discussion about Mal becoming addicted to the dream world, and that it is the only place she can really feel alive. I am not a particularly emotional person in real life, and am typically more passionate about pieces of media than I am about elements of my own life. The dream for me is to make movies, or at least have control over producing videos of some sort, and maybe this desire is partially because that is where I find the most passion in my life. The feeling of watching a video I have completed (well, for one that I like), is great. I can’t even imagine how Nolan must have felt watching the final cut of Inception. Pride? Excitement? If I had written/directed Inception, I imagine I would have been so excited watching it that I probably would have kicked holes in the walls while repeatedly screaming, “I’M THE FUCKING MAN!”

Is Inception Nolan’s best movie? Honestly, I’m not sure. Memento could be deconstructed for days like Inception, which might be even more impressive given that Memento doesn’t really stray too far from the real world. The Prestige is a perfectly written movie, and the Dark Knight is the most impressive blockbuster since the Matrix (and perhaps until Inception). Regardless, Nolan’s contributions to film are impressive, and personally I’m happy to say that I have been a Nolan fan since the release of his first film. If these movies are what play out in his dreams, I can only imagine how excited he must be to go to sleep every night.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

When you make Kobe look humble, you're fucking up.

I want to make a few things clear about my feelings towards LeBron James’ decision to play for the Miami Heat: until this year, I liked him. I was by no means a Cavs fan, but I loved watching him play because, quite honestly, he’s the most talented player in the league by a wide margin. He’s kind of like Charles Barkley was in his younger days: a, unique ‘physical specimen’ who does not conform to what his size says he should (which would be a power forward in the post, not a ball-handling small forward). Keep in mind, before Sir Charles was a loveable public alcoholic, he was a 6’4” power forward who not only played his position well, but was DOMINANT at a size typically reserved for guards. According to their official listings, the Round Mound of Rebound is one inch taller than Steve Nash. But my love for Charles has forced me to digress.

My dislike for LeBron had a slow build, and it also corresponded with my growth in admiration of Carmelo Anthony’s game. LeBron’s whining towards the refs has gotten out of control (much like Kobe’s), and that typically starts to send me over the edge on how I feel about a player. During the now infamous Celtics/Cavs second round series this year, I don’t think it’s a question that LeBron quit. His stats were great, of course, but with 2 minutes left in the closeout game, the Cavaliers just stopped trying to win, even though they still conceivably could have. I am a firm believer in your leader dictating the tone of the team, and had LeBron been trying to win instead of just sauntering up the court, I bet the rest of his team would have kept trying as well. It was without a doubt one of the most confusing, frustrating and maddening things I’ve witnessed in my decade of excessive basketball watching. If you’re a competitor, you don’t fucking quit. I suck at basketball, but even when my former roommate was beating me 10-1 in a game to 11, I was still trying. And the only thing on the line there was bragging rights.

I will still watch LeBron play next year. I would be a fool not to. But I hate that man, and so do a lot of other NBA fans right now. I’m pretty sure Cleveland will do their own, LeBron jersey variation of the Comiskey Park Disco Demolition Night by the end of the summer, led by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert himself. My hate does not stem from LeBron abandoning Cleveland, because I don’t care about Cleveland (does anybody?), nor does it stem from him taking less money to having a better chance at winning championships. I actually think that’s vaguely admirable. It certainly doesn’t stem from him realizing that he doesn’t have his now-teammate Dwyane Wade’s ‘killer instinct,’ although judging by The Interview with Jim Gray, he doesn’t quite realize that he should and will be deferring to Wade more often than he is used to in crunch time. If he’s willingly accepting an uber-Pippen role, then again, I find that admirable. Wade’s body will break down sooner than Bron’s, and Wade is 3 years older as well, so if these egos can coexist for long enough, LeBron will eventually have his chance as alpha dog again, but with less pressure, assuming the Miami Thrice win a title or two before this change occurs.

The reason LeBron left is pretty simple I think, and it is (to me) kind of telling about his personality. He is publicly a Yankees, Cowboys, and (while growing up) Bulls fan, just like every kid you went to school with in the 90s who liked wearing Starter jackets. This guy was the “son of Ohio,” but he never cheered for Ohio sports teams. When Michael Jordan hit “the shot” over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo in the late 80s, LeBron was probably happy. He’s a bandwagoner, and as somebody who dislikes bandwagoners, I can’t like LeBron anymore.

To me, a bandwagon fan is the worst kind of sports fan. This is the non-New Yorker that cheers for the Yankees because chances are, they’re going to win more often than anybody else. He wears his #24 Lakers jersey to a bar in Toronto and yells “GIVE IT TO KOBE!” every time another Laker has the ball. The bandwagon fan doesn’t want to wait to win: they want to win now. And I don’t mean that in a ‘fiery competitor’ sort of way, because the average fan has almost no influence on the game, I mean it in that they don’t want to wait around for their local team to win. I realize this way of thinking might be kind of stupid, because my chosen team, the Raptors will almost certainly never win a title, but at least I’ll respect myself in some odd way. And as I have mentioned many times before in conversation, I find the concept of professional sports to be inherently ridiculous, and thusly support my own ridiculous opinions towards professional sports.

Irrationally hating bandwagon fans is pretty much the sports nerd’s equivalent of being the normal nerd in high school: I’m Ducky in Pretty in Pink, and bandwagon fans are the more popular and eventually successful Blane. We’re often working harder to meet our goal, but shit just comes so easy to the popular folk.

I realize that my Carmelo Anthony fandom complicates things here. The Nuggets are my secondary team, and Melo isn’t the only player on that team I really like (K-Mart, JR Smith, Chauncey Billups, Nene, etc), but I cheer for them because of Melo. My defense for this is that Melo does not get anywhere near the respect he deserves in comparison to the other premier players in the league. He’s the underdog superstar. People expect LeBron to win, whereas when Melo and the Nuggets made it to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, it surprised people. And it’s easier for a person like me to cheer for the underdog. When Kobe and the Lakers triumphed over the Nuggets last year, it was frustrating. The Lakers had more natural talent, and a deeper bench (in that they had one)… but you could tell just how bad the Nuggets wanted it. But that’s never what really matters.

Melo’s also got an ego, no doubt. Anybody who is showered with as much praise growing up as a basketball player at his level would have one, it’s the nature of the game. If people tell you something good about yourself repeatedly for long enough, you’re going to eventually believe it and carry yourself differently. I’ve seen this happen on a much smaller scale than a pro ball player, and I would imagine it takes a very strong will to avoid. But LeBron took the concept of ego and raised it about ten notches with his hour long ESPN special called “The Decision.” What Kevin Durant did in a single tweet, LeBron needed an hour of primetime television for. This has been written about just about everywhere, and honestly, to see how ridiculous it is, all you have to do is read this sentence: “This fall, man this is very tough, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” Those are the words he said in the middle of an obviously scripted interview, and if you remove the painfully forced “tough decision” line, that would easily fit in a tweet. The rest of the hour was almost certainly spent rehashing points we had read many times in the preceding weeks. I can’t be a fan of any athlete who thinks they deserve an hour of primetime for one sentence.

To be fair, part of this isn’t LeBron’s fault. Michael Jordan was an egotistical douchebag too, but the peak of his career was 15 years ago, before the sports media ‘evolved’ into what it is now. But abusing the media’s admiration of him is almost as offensive as the media’s role in this to me. A lot of wrong decisions were made… and while the special was LeBron’s representations’ idea (and LeBron agreed to it), ESPN was probably the one who really profited. I suspect LeBron lost a lot of fans with the special, but the ratings were massive. I was (shockingly) in a movie theatre at the time, but the clips I watched later on that night were painful. It was like watching the high school quarterback step up to give some sort of speech at an assembly: you hate that he felt entitled enough to do it, but you still wanted to hear how he was going to try to address the school.

LeBron has to leave his native Cleveland to (presumably) win faster. Melo misses out on his rightful recognition. The Raptors never win, and Ducky doesn’t get the girl. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is, and the way it always will be.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I initially wrote this a couple of months ago, which should explain any time-based confusion to readers who know me. I also am still unsure how I feel about romanticizing this so much, but it has been a month since I wrote about Community, so I needed to post something.

I love going to the movies, as you may have put together, but I have never really been able to put together a definable reason as to why I like it so much. I obviously love the actual watching of the movies, but I have paid to see some unbelievably poor movies that I never would have watched at home (Kangaroo Jack, Mindhunters, Dickie Roberts, Bulletproof Monk, Million Dollar Baby, etc). This is very much because of the low ticket prices at my local discount theatre, but also because of my lifelong love of movies.

I went to the movies fairly frequently before high school, but once I met some like-minded friends in high school, I started going to the movies 2-3 times a week. Outside of trying out for the school basketball team twice and writing one movie review in Grade 9 for the school paper (a positive review of the Legend of Bagger Vance that I clearly wish I could take back), I didn’t partake in any extracurricular activities, and neither did two of my soon to be closest friends. We started to make the walk downtown to the movie theatre after school, and this became something we would do pretty much any afternoon when none of us had to work. This trend continued on many weekends and throughout summer vacations, where I learned something else about my friends and, in turn, going to the movies.

I love the friends I have talked about here, but some of them are pretty unreliable. Sometimes I would make plans to go to a movie with somebody, and then they just wouldn’t show up. After this happened a few times, I was pretty sick of just going home, so I started seeing the movies by myself, which I quickly found was almost as enjoyable as seeing the movie with somebody else. This was a pretty killer discovery, because then I realized that on those pesky days when I couldn’t find anybody to go with, I could just go by myself. I could see just about anything I wanted to, and I could go back to see something good multiple times if I wanted to (and I did, sometimes even three days in a row). I didn’t skip much school in high school or university, but when I did, typically I ended up at the movies. This eventually escalated to the point where I’m at now, where whenever I get a day where I don’t have anything to do, I go to this same theatre all day and see everything I’ve missed.

I’ve lived in the same city with this theatre for about 12-13 years now, and I have finally gotten a job that is going to move me out of it. I won’t miss this city itself, much like I have never really missed high school or university once I left them. I miss some people, but I never miss the places. I do, however, feel awkward going back. For some reason that I can’t remember now, I had to go back into my high school very briefly a couple of years ago, and upon walking through the doors I was instantly filled with a feeling of awkwardness. I have no idea why, but I just felt completely uncomfortable and had to get out of there as soon as I could. Now that I have left university, the same thing tends to occur, albeit to a lesser degree, when I have to go on campus or the time I rented movies from the video store I worked at for years. I am borderline obsessed with memory and more specifically how I remember moments and artifacts from my past, and I think my being uncomfortable with revisiting these places is because it can only hurt the remaining pleasant memories I may have of them.

The other day, I decided to go to the movies for one last chance to have a movie day, knowing full well that this will probably be the end of being able to do this what with adulthood looming* and moving to a city where the cheapest theatre is a full $3 more than what I’m used to paying. The convenience of my home theatre’s location, mixed with its incredible ticket prices, will probably not happen again in my life. I’m obviously not saying I’m never going to the movies again, because that would be absurd, but I might be saying goodbye to the days when I go to see a 1pm movie and am still around for the last show of the night at 10. And the worst part about it all is that when I’m back in town visiting, I don’t see myself wanting to go back to this theatre. Like high school, university, and the video store, I hate going back, likely because so much of my life was spent there.

I have many notable memories at this theatre, two of which that stick out to me now are when I saw The Girl Next Door, and then years later when I saw Adventureland. Each time I was alone, and each time I had just finished my final year at an educational institution – high school for The Girl Next Door, and university for Adventureland. I’ve always said that the sign of a good comedy is when it can make me laugh out loud when I’m by myself, and both of these movies accomplished that repeatedly. I also remember really liking each when I saw them – each movie was about somebody who I could see parts of myself in, and I was, to a point, emotionally invested in each main character’s decisions.

In the past week, I have rewatched each of these two movies, and have discovered that while the Girl Next Door is still funny, it is certainly not good. The whole thing is ridiculous. I don’t know what I was thinking when I was 18, but now I’m thinking I was an idiot. While it isn’t altogether impossible, it still seems bizarre that I could ever be emotionally invested in a movie like this. I typically feel like I should be laughing at absurd teen movies, not taking them seriously: this is why you give the “really?” look to people who think that the Breakfast Club is a serious film.

Going back and watching the Girl Next Door again is pretty much how I feel about returning to my high school, university, and probably soon my favourite movie theatre. The place is still the same, but your good memories of it far outweigh anything that can be accomplished by going back. With time, parts of your memories will fade away, and you’ll be left with only the best (and I suppose worst) parts of those memories. I am an advocate for watching movies multiple times, and I am not saying that I shouldn’t have watched the Girl Next Door again, I am just saying that I shouldn’t necessarily expect to get the same initial feeling watching a movie years after first viewing it. I liked Adventureland this week just as much as I did a year ago, but that may change with time like my opinions on the Girl Next Door did. I might see my old theatre in the future, but it can never be the same. It is far more likely that it will feel like rewatching the Girl Next Door, or meeting up with a friend I haven’t seen in years: the idea of it will be exciting, but the actual event will almost always be a letdown. Luckily, I have the memories and the ticket stubs to remind me of what was, and what the place meant to me.

*I say that you’re not truly an adult until you stop shamelessly using your clothes as napkins in public places, and while I have yet to reach that stage, I always fear that day is on the horizon.