Status: In theaters (opened 6/25/10)
Directed By: Dennis Dugan
Written By: Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf
Cinematographer: Theo van de Sande
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek
As is probably obvious from the content on this site, I see a fair amount of movies. My wife and I see so many, in fact, that it is apparently possible for us to go through withdrawal. And so it came to pass that on a recent vacation, about 13 days into it, finding ourselves with the first free afternoon of the trip, we decided we’d go see a movie. This had a few benefits: as we were in Illinois in July, it was incredibly hot and humid out, and so the theater would give us a nice excuse to sit in the air conditioning for a couple of hours during the most unbearable part of the day. We could also get popcorn for lunch, which is one of our favorite things to do—and before you’re tempted to let me know about the calorie or fat or whatever other content of such a meal, I’m aware, and it’s actually not that bad: even a huge tub of popcorn at a movie theater with butter drizzled all over it is like 1300 calories, and split 2 ways that’s really not that bad of a lunch. But I digress. It also seemed like a nice idea because, as much as we love our family and friends, spending the previous 2 weeks driving all over the Midwest to visit as many of them as possible was exhausting, so having a little time to ourselves in the peace and quiet of a dark theater was about as inviting an escape as I could imagine.
The one thing we didn’t consider, unfortunately, was that there wasn’t shit playing. Our options were basically to sit in a theater full of children seeing an animated flick (Toy Story 3 or Despicable Me), or to try to convince the other to succumb to our respective guilty pleasures: mine for 1980s nostalgia (Predators), hers for bad comedies (Grown Ups). And marriage being what it is, we “agreed” on the latter, and this is all really my extremely roundabout way of trying to explain to you, and myself, how in the hell I ended up sitting there watching this movie in the first place. There is one side-story here that’s sort of worth telling, too: a bug in my iPhone’s Showtimes app led to an amusing listing of “nearby” theaters from where I sat in my parents’ house in Plainfield, Illinois (at right; click to enlarge).
And honestly, that single image brought me more chuckles than did the entire experience of sitting through Grown Ups. It’s one of those movies where it’s impossible for me to even picture the writers sitting together and thinking that what they’ve put on the page is actually humorous, much less expecting an audience of people to laugh at the finished product that will come from it. And yet, laugh they did: the half a dozen other people who went to the Showplace 16 in Naperville for that Thursday noontime showing were absolutely laughing their asses off. I’m just out of touch with middle America, I guess. These are, presumably, the same people who flocked to see Paul Blart: Mall Cop a year and a half ago. They’re people I feel pretty confident saying I have nothing in common with.
So this whole post has been—as I’m sure is sort of clear by now—an excuse to convince myself that I’ve lived up to my goal of writing about every movie I see in the theaters, and yet not actually having to write about the movie Grown Ups, which I didn’t really want to see and kind of wish I hadn’t. It’s basically a retarded version of The Big Chill; its biggest attempts at laughs come from Kevin James falling out of a pool, or falling into a lake, or pissing on himself, or otherwise just being fat and stupid. Oh, and there’s also this brilliant gag having to do with Rob Schneider’s daughters: two are hot, and one has a mullet. Get it?
What I really don’t understand here, though, is Adam Sandler. The guy has shown in recent years that he can actually act (Reign Over Me) and that he can be actually funny while actually acting, too (Funny People). And yet he keeps coming back to what I suppose should be considered his bread and butter, these mindless, unfunny, surprisingly crowd-pleasing phoning-it-in movies. More power to him, I guess. Next time I think I’ll just push harder for Predators.
Status: In theaters (opened 7/16/10)
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Christopher Nolan
Cinematographer: Wally Pfister
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard
I honestly can’t decide if I should fault Christopher Nolan for helping to dumb down film as we know it, or give him credit for capitalizing on the already-existing phenomenon. I think the answer is probably both: he’s a guy who’s recognized the fact that movies don’t need to make sense to be considered “smart” anymore, that hand-waving can take the place of legitimate plotlines, that repetitive sophomoric “explanations” can get an audience to go along with whatever nonsense you present them with, and yet he also knows how to present an entertaining spectacle, to throw excitement on the screen in spades and just hope you don’t try to make sense of it while enjoying the ride. Inception is probably the most direct example of what I’m pretty sure will become Nolan’s trademark style from this point on: it’s a big, fun adventure that moves fast and asks you not to question where it’s going, except for when it takes the time to explain the parts that don’t matter. For instance: the plot revolves around a guy named Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team of dream-snatchers, except that what they deal with aren’t really like dreams at all. Consider a scene that I’m sure you’re familiar with if you’ve seen the film’s theatrical trailer (see the 0:40 point)—or the poster above—where the streets of Paris fold over onto each other, demonstrating the control over the dream world that these experts have. Does this have anything to do with the movie whatsoever? Of course not; it’s an excuse to show off an eye-popping effect (and it does, admittedly, look amazing), but one that has no relevance or consequence to the film’s story. This one small example, as far as I’m concerned, pretty much tells the whole story of how Christopher Nolan makes movies, and Inception is one long, loud, and in-your-face treatise on what a summer blockbuster in 2010 is going to be.
The formula should be recognizable from Nolan’s The Dark Knight: there’s some amateur psychology loosely stringing everything together, here explained by way of audience surrogate Ellen Page, with help from Joseph Gordon-Levitt (doing his best bad-Keanu Reeves impression), who are charged with delivering the kind of embarrassing dialogue I found so distasteful in the Batman movie—it’s of the form, “Here is what must happen, otherwise this will happen, which would be bad,” and it’s repeated multiple times just to make sure that you didn’t miss it, because at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure Nolan’s view of you, his audience, is that you’re a complete idiot and can’t follow the most simplistic plot developments, even when their ramifications are explained to you every 20 minutes or so. And then on the other hand, he expects you to not question the major aspects of his story: how does this whole dream-stealing thing work in the first place? The description that’s given is about as useful as Norville Barnes’s explanation of his brilliant idea to the heads of Hudsucker Industries—”You know,” you can virtually hear DiCaprio saying, “for dreams!”
The central conflict—and would-be moral—of the film is basically more psychobabble nonsense, but I don’t want to delve into it too much here because it’d fall into the realm of spoilers. Let me just say that I absolutely love Marion Cotillard, and think that she’s as beautifully mesmerizing here as she’s been in everything else I’ve seen her do, and yet her role in Inception feels like little more than an excuse for the script to attempt to screw with your head. Hell, that’s basically all the whole movie is, come to think of it: Nolan is going for a roller-coaster ride of a mindfuck, and anything that helps him achieve that end gets thrown in whether it really fits or makes sense or not.
Structurally, things are pretty strange, too: we get the Return of the Jedi style of setting up several simultaneous action sequences that are intercut with each other, to all be resolved at roughly the same time, except here there’s an additional twist: each thread of the action is actually a different layer of dream, because in the world of Inception it’s possible to induce dreams-within-dreams (with the to-be-expected laborious explanations of how this works, and what its arbitrary limitations are). What Nolan basically ends up with is an hour-long exposition, then an hour-plus action setpiece, and then an abbreviated concluding scene that aims to leave the viewer with some open-ended questions that are inconsequential anyway. While the action is happening, though, it’s something to behold. Things happen at a fast and furious pace, and the action, like the plot itself, is best enjoyed if you just let it overtake you instead of trying to make sense of it all as it goes. Wally Pfister shoots the film like he did The Dark Knight, which is to say with a sense of scope that’s uniquely fitting and awesome. And Hans Zimmer seems to have put in overtime, his score maintaining a throbbing build for a good 45-minute stretch towards the film’s climax, which is quite a feat in itself.
I realize a lot of the above may sound like a lot of bitching over a movie that’s really not as bad as I might be making it sound. In fact, I think I like it quite a bit—I just find it to be extremely frustrating. Inception has some good ideas, is creatively very unique, features amazing practical effects that suck you into its world, and takes you on a mind-bending ride that’s quite enjoyable if you’re able to just sit back and allow your mind to be bent, rather than expecting it to be used for other purposes. As far as this type of movie goes, I’ll take the Nolan version over the extremely disappointing attempt at a brain-twister Scorsese brought us earlier this year with that other DiCaprio vehicle, Shutter Island. And I don’t think it’s any question that Inception has a lot more to offer than a mindless effects-fest like Avatar. My main issue is that, like most of Nolan’s other films, Inception feels like a) it could be so much more, and b) it thinks it already is.