Nearly two weeks since this year's annual debate over why Hollywood's summer fare sucks (we'll get to that), and nearly a dozen days before its opening, here come the first reviews of what, for some, perhaps many, is the only studio release of the season warranting some degree of anticipation, Christopher Nolan's Inception.
As Anne Thompson notes, these reviews come from the trades, "key fan sites and Oscar bloggers" who've been given the go-ahead from Warner Bros. The flurry of reviews and retweets hit at around 3 pm California time yesterday, and I'd round them all up if Jeffrey Wells hadn't already done so. I don't see anything spoilerish in his collection of eleven blurbs, so rush on over. To digest the digest, though, the gist, if you haven't heard, is that Inception "stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy as a crack team that invades Cillian Murphy's dreams and find unimaginable perils in the subconscious," as The Wrap's Steve Pond puts it.
Most of us can't see Justin Chang's rave in Variety, but the money quote has been copied-n-pasted everywhere: "Applying a vivid sense of procedural detail to a fiendishly intricate yarn set in the labyrinth of the subconscious, the writer-director has devised a heist thriller for surrealists, a Jungian's Rififi, that challenges viewers to sift through multiple layers of (un)reality. Nolan places mind-bending visual effects and a top-flight cast in service of a boldly cerebral vision that demands, and rewards, the utmost attention. Even when its ambition occasionally outstrips its execution, Inception tosses off more ideas and fires on more cylinders than most blockbusters would have the nerve to attempt."
Again, Wells has the rest. Meantime, the New York Times' Dave Itzkoff has a backgrounder and an interview with Nolan, while, at Cinematical, Todd Gilchrist interviews cinematographer Wally Pfister.
Update: Here's a new one, posted since the Wells roundup. Steven James Snyder at Techland: "This movie's brilliant. It is so unbelievably inventive and intelligent that I'm convinced a studio just gave Christopher Nolan carte blanche to do anything he wanted. Because there's no way some studio exec read this script and then said: 'Sure, take my money and go make this movie.' It's so dense, so layered, such a hard sell that it must be a marketing nightmare. But it's easily the most interesting, involving and memorable film I've seen this year. I want to see it a second time pre-opening, and a third time opening weekend; that should tell you something right there."
Update, 7/9: "The most surprising thing about Inception is how complicated it is not." David Poland explains.
Updates, 7/10: "The trouble with Nolan's film is that it pulls so many tricks and double bluffs that it is often hard to get your bearings," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "And so, like the movie's characters, we are left to blunder blindly down the rabbit hole, labouring to tell the ceiling from the floor and wondering desperately, in the words of one protagonist, 'just whose subconscious we're in now, exactly.' Happily, in the case of Inception, getting lost is half the fun."
The Scotsman interviews Nolan and Geoff Boucher has a longish profile of Gordon-Levitt and Page in the LAT Magazine.
That "'Who killed the movies: Jaws or Star Wars?' debate has broken out yet again," sighed Glenn Kenny late last month, before picking up, albeit more furiously, where the New Yorker's Richard Brody had left off in his roundup of arguments from the pages of New York, the Weekly Standard, the New York Times and Mother Jones. This year's bout, by now pretty well played out, was brought on in part by the 35th anniversary of Jaws, and one of the finer posts marking it comes from Phil Nugent: "Spielberg may have only been conscious of trying to put enough of a spin on the familiar cliches of monster movies that viewers wouldn't fall asleep and choke on their popcorn, but in its way, Jaws was a political movie, maybe of the best kind — one that, without making speeches about it, embodies an attitude towards life and certain ever-present species of insanity in such an entertaining way that its message quietly seeps into the consciouses of innocent young lads like myself and wrecks us for life, the way that a good Jesuit education is supposed to."
Dennis Cozzalio reminds us of another 35th. In the summer of 1975, Robert Altman's Nashville "was too much like America itself to be contained in a package that mainstream moviegoers could ever get behind." Still, while Altman "didn't set out to make the Great American Movie... he got there just the same."
The 70s seem to have been in the air over this past holiday weekend. Bill Ryan riffed on Catholicism in two films from 1973, Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets and William Friedkin's The Exorcist, the Parallax View wrapped its long-running series on Sam Peckinpah, and Todd McCarthy posted a series of recollections, nifty photos included, from the very first time he attended the Cannes Film Festival. The year was 1970 and a "stunning difference between Cannes then and now was the almost total absence of American film critics and journalists at that time." A recommended read, no matter how often you may have agreed or disagreed with his film reviews.
"The American silent cinema of the 1920s gave us three great comedians: Harold Lloyd, whose hyperkinetic optimism seemed the perfect embodiment of his epoch; Charles Chaplin, whose Victorian sentimentality was just a touching bit behind it; and Buster Keaton, who was so far ahead of his time that we're still running to catch up with him. Two new releases from Kino add substantially to our understanding of Keaton's remote, introverted, often enigmatic art." Dave Kehr in the New York Times on the new edition of Steamboat Bill, Jr (1928) and Lost Keaton, collecting "all 16 of the short comedies that he made from 1934 to 1937 for Educational Pictures, a Poverty Row operation that picked up Keaton’s contract after he was dropped by MGM." More from Michael Atkinson (IFC), Brad Cook (Film Threat) and Bill Weber (Slant).
And from Kino: "In the silent era, it was common practice for filmmakers to create two separate negatives of their films, each comprised of differing takes and camera angles. This definitive DVD edition contains both versions of Steamboat Bill, Jr, each mastered from archival 35mm materials, as well as a thirteen-minute documentary comparing the two."
Sam Adams in the Los Angeles Times: "The films in the five-disc set Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II were released as the movement was nearing its end, and in some the wear has begun to show. Apart from chronology, there's little to tie them together, but there's a common sense of a genre fraying at the seams, which in some cases translates as an opportunity to bust it wide open." More from Josef Braun.
DVD roundups: Noel Murray (LAT) and Slant.
IN OTHER NEWS
"Politicians and artists from the cinema and theatre were unanimous in praise Saturday for a great master and legend of the French stage and film, Laurent Terzieff, who died aged 75," reports the AFP. "Legendary directors including Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini had all cast Terzieff in their films, though the Frenchman dedicated much of his career to acting and directing for the stage. President of the Cannes Film Festival, Gilles Jacob, said Terzieff was an example to all artists, 'immense' for his talent as well as his modesty."
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