Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dream Weaver

Viewing a movie in a darkened theater has long been called a shared dream experience. Christopher Nolan's Inception gives a whole new meaning to this idea; a notion he twists into pulse-quickening knots before turning the whole enterprise on its head - not once, not twice but three times - and then once again for good measure.

It is hard to quantify how good Inception is. It is a two and one half hour roller coaster ride with enough thrills and chills to keep you glued to your seat - when you are not perched on the edge of it. Inception is full of good actors doing good work, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

DiCaprio gives another fine performance confirming himself as "the actor" of his generation and, for anybody who hasn't already seen his indie work in films like The Lookout (2007), Levitt is surprisingly good. He gives a steely performance that is lean, sinewy and remarkably balletic. Add to this heady stew Oscar winner Marion Cotillard. She is chillingly affective as DiCaprio's dead wife and dream nemesis.

To the aforementioned trio, Nolan brings his favorite players from the Dark Knight franchise for which he is most famous. There is Michael Caine as DiCaprio's father-in-law and mentor, Cillian Murphy as the rich industrialist/mark, and Ken Watanabe as the murky client who sets the whole enterprise in motion.

Full of action and fantastic but seamlessly integrated and organically woven-in landscapes and dream-scapes, Inception is a cinematic recitation on artistic inspiration, the nature of dreams and questions about what is and is not real. We explore dreams, yours and mine, their necessity, their siren call and the dark, murky depths hidden just beneath.

It is mind-boggling and mind blowing and yet, at its core, it is a Hitchcockian story about love, lost and redemption that is both harrowing and heartwarming. Through it all, Nolan is our Morpheus, our dream-weaver, a benevolent and malevolent conductor who takes us on a mystical, magical tour of the dream world and all its environs.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fifty Years Old and 30 Million Strong

June 11, 2010 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. A staple of English classes nationwide, the book has sold well in excess of 30 million copies and been translated into three dozen languages. The book continues to sell one million copies in the U.S. every year. I have yet to read To Kill A Mockingbird, a glaring gap in my cultural literacy, but I have seen the excellent movie directed by Robert Mulligan often and it pisses me off each and every time.

In acknowledgement of the golden anniversary of Harper Lee's magnum opus, I re-watched the movie this weekend and, once again, it irks me mightily that Tom Robinson, an innocent, upstanding black family man gets railroaded for a rape he did not commit - a rape that, in fact, did not even occur - and is subsequently shot dead "trying to escape" while Arthur "Boo" Radley, the white town idiot, commits murder, albeit altruistically, and walks away scott free. This, I am lead to believe, is a happy ending.

I think Harper Lee's only published novel continues to endure and prosper because most readers want to believe they are Atticus Finch, the principled lawyer who is the moral center of the novel. That, in fact, they are probably closer in thought and action to the drunken redneck Robert E. Lee "Bob" Ewell (who actually commits the crime for which Tom Robinson is tried and convicted) or, more charitably, to Walter Cunningham (the dirt poor farmer who begrudgingly pays off his legal debt to Finch with bags of nuts and other forms of barter) who allows himself to be coerced into the mob that converges on the courthouse to lynch Tom, notwithstanding.

They want to believe in a man as good and kind and decent as Atticus Finch, a man who refuses to judge any man less he has walked a mile in that man's shoes. They want to believe America, at its core, is as good as Atticus Finch. They want to believe that they, at their core, are as good as Atticus Finch. But while the road to Rome may have once been lined with hundreds of martyred men nailed to crosses and each proclaiming "I am Spartacus!" - there isn't, and never has been any profusion of men like Atticus Finch.

Fifty years out and thirty million copies sold and there remains precious few of us who would stand up in the face of withering opposition and do the right thing.