July 2010 Archives

Attaboy, Jim

inception-pinwheel.jpgIn my hastily keyboarded notes after seeing Inception last weekend, I spent much time faulting Jim Emerson for his dismissal of Christopher Nolan and of the movie. Emerson made sweeping, unsupported generalizations in the service of his obvious dislike of Nolan’s movies. His pieces (and his responses in the comments sections) represented an attack rather than an argument.

It’s only fair, then, to praise Emerson for his essay yesterday, which restates his problems with the film but does so much more cogently and generously.

In at least four of Christopher Nolan’s seven feature films, the plots and/or fixations are initiated or propelled by the death of a man’s spouse or girlfriend. Considering that Nolan’s primary thematic interest is obsession, isn’t this a little strange?

The realization struck me the day I saw Inception, in which everything Cobb does involves “being with” his dead wife Mal or being reunited with his kids, from whom he’s separated because of how Mal died. She leaped from a window, but Cobb feels (and is) responsible. Cobb also convinced her to lay down in front of a train in their “limbo” world.



inception-2.jpgIn taking down Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Jim Emerson writes:

“[W]hat this movie’s facilely conceived CGI environments have to do with dreaming, as human beings experience dreams, I don’t know. ... [T]he movie’s concept of dreams as architectural labyrinths — stable and persistent science-fiction action-movie sets that can be blown up with explosives or shaken with earthquake-like tremors, but that are firmly resistant to shifting or morphing into anything else — is mystifying to me.”

The complaint is fair enough, given that Inception regularly refers to “dreams.” But what’s going on is only marginally related to how “human beings experience dreams.” The movie’s plot concerns espionage that uses as its tool a shared, drug-induced dream-like state with environments created by external “architects.” And if one does a little thinking, one realizes that the technique of the premise is effective only if scientists and practitioners can exercise control over the dreaming — that is, if they eliminate the inherent fluidity, randomness, and chaos.

I understand that if you want to make a good movie about baseball, you need to be true to baseball. But this is a case of sloppy word choice rather than botched fidelity. I suppose the movie could have made up some stupid term for its alternate realities — say, “The Matrix” — but I prefer the simplicity of the inaccurate “dreams.” Bitch about Inception’s presentation of “dreams” all you want, but I think a filmmaker should get a pass on the core narrative given.

Acts of Hashem

serious-man-2.jpgI was surprised after watching (and then reading reviews of) the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man that there was such a fervent (if small) backlash against it. The movie — about a Job-like Jewish professor in a Minnesota suburb in the late 1960s — struck me as so right that I didn’t allow for opposite reactions.

Yet there they are. Some critics have placed the movie comfortably, derisively in the Coen canon, which is to say that they find it empty and mean — gorgeously made cinema that has no interest in or respect for humanity.

The movie generously allows for (and perhaps embraces) accusations of misanthropy. Whether you love it or hate it, find it cruelly godless or searchingly spiritual, see affection or scorn for the characters, the film will not peep a word of protest. By design, it is what you think it is. And what you think it is depends in large part on how you look at it. Is it a synagogue parking lot, or evidence of Hashem?

But even though art can be interpreted many ways, the text has a voice, too. And the essence of A Serious Man is faith in Hashem, which is illuminated rather than confused by the film’s cryptic core.

‘Dragon Tattoo’ has a damaged, sharp heroine; compelling depravity; a fair mystery; and no fat. But it’s oddly amorphous and fixated on rape

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‘It Might Get Loud’ never does, and the guitar-star summit lacks chemistry. Still, it’s always engaging, and The Edge deserves his own movie

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On Re-Creations

watchmen.jpgWhen I say that the filmed version of Watchmen and the horror remake Quarantine are faithful to the point of tedium, I intend that largely as a compliment. Great talent, care, time, and money have been spent not fixing what ain’t broke. Considered separate from their sources, both movies work.

But they’re damned depressing.

I found Snyder’s ‘Watchmen’ merely highly competent (and far too fetishistic), but given that the comic was ‘unfilmable,’ he did damned good

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Reclamation Project

shondes.jpgDescribing the Shondes’ new album My Dear One, violinist Elijah Oberman noted in a recent interview that “it’s basically a break-up record. ... We’re both happy and terrified to be participating in that tradition. On the one hand, it’s a very universal topic, and something that most people can relate to. And on the other hand, you really have to work to make it your own.”

Mission accomplished. Because the New York-based band so masterfully blends its atypical identities into rock music, this break-up record sounds like no other.

Unlike most monster movies, ‘[Rec]’ builds horror along with chaos. Near the end, it tells when it should hint, but it’s invisibly skillful.

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