Friday Movie Blog: DiCaprio in Head-Spinning Inception

Plus: The Disney magic of The Sorcerer's Apprentice

I’ve avoided all articles. I’ve quickly grabbed the remote every time the commercials came on. I truly did not want to know anything about Inception until I sat in the darkened theater. Little did I know that this would be an exercise in futility. Even if I had read a copy of the full script, I still wouldn’t be able to wrap my head around it. Here is the one thing I truly understood: this will be the most discussed, dissected, and (possibly) divisive movie of the year.

Christopher Nolan (the writer/director of Memento, The Dark Knight, and The Prestige) has created a puzzle-box of a world. In this world—this movie—you have dreams within dreams within dreams. (Stories within stories within stories.) With a portable, briefcase-sized contraption, people are able to simultaneously enter someone’s dreams. There they can manipulate the dream world around them: fold Paris in on itself, create Escher-like staircases, and appear as anyone they wish. Only imagination is the limit. They can also imagine the same contraption and enter into yet another dream. And so forth.

Why? Well that’s the heart of the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Cobb, a man desperately trying to clear his name so he can return home to his children. Because he’s a master of dream invasion, companies hire him to steal ideas from competitors. Using his Matrix-y band of merry men, Cobb must take on these jobs (Ocean’s 11 style), hoping that the paydays will be enough to bribe his way home. So when an incredibly powerful man, Ken Watanabe’s Saito (who can clear Cobb’s name with one phone call), offers him an almost impossible job, Cobb can’t refuse. But why can’t he return home? And, what is the job? Well, you’ll have to see the movie.[SIGNUP]

A quick note to Leonardo DiCaprio: dude, this is your second is-he-or-isn’t-he-crazy role. Yes you can do awesome screams, teary grimaces of the face, and have that lost husband thing down pat. I think it’s time to hang up the nutso roles for a little bit. Thank you.

Sorry had to get that off of my chest. Anyway…

Some will claim this movie is a masterpiece (which people are already doing). Others will say that it is not a masterpiece (which people are already doing). I say that this is a film that challenges what a traditional action movie is. It has all the expected basics: action sequences, gun battles (on skis, no less), and explosions. But it takes these conventions and gives them new life, like the action sequences where Joseph Gordon-Levitt fights men in a gravity-less hotel hallway. It also has examinations of the subconscious—how regret and loss can become invasive cancers in your psyche.

There are so many complex ideas, storylines, and visuals that are nearly impossible to tease apart in words. What I can say is that Nolan has created a Lynchian/Kubrickian piece of art that distorts ideas of time and place—complete with trippy imagery and multifaceted plots. Yes there are weaknesses and faults: Some characters are not adequately developed (specifically, Ellen Page’s Ariadne), notions are not always fully explained, and there’s a musical score that never, ever, ever takes a break (at times to the point of distraction). Yet what is refreshing is that Nolan treats us like adults. He provides a work that is left to us for evaluation and discussion. Like The Prestige, we must take what is presented and determine if it has all been truth or just a great slight of hand.

It has now been three days since I’ve seen Inception; I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I anxiously wait for friends to see it, so I can hear their thoughts and fight over some of the Lost-like minutiae. Especially the very last image.

See it as soon as you can. (In theaters.)

My Grade: A-

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is Disney’s latest attempt to mine its legacy. Pirates of the Caribbean? Successful. The Haunted Mansion? Not as much. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Moderately so.

The movie begins with an overly intricate exposition (crammed into the first five minutes). We’ll just say: Merlin chose some guys—including Cage’s Balthazar Blake (how awesome is that name?)—to find some guy to beat some evil guy … sorry, gal. (This is Disney after all. No movie would be complete without a villainess). That “some guy” turns out to be Dave, a nerd from modern-day New York (energetically played by Jay Baruchel). Under Blake’s tutelage, he alone will be able to defeat the villainess.

The movie is perfect for older children. It’s got great special effects (the Chinese Dragon and the Persian Quick Rug are particularly well done), a lot of action, and some minor chills. For adults, Baruchel is the main attraction. His nebbish looks and droll delivery somehow make you forget that you’re watching a “kids” movie. It takes a lot of charisma to somehow pull focus from Cage. But of course, this isn’t the blinky, twitchy Cage we’ve come to love and fear. Rather, it’s the family-friendly Cage of National Treasure … except with a Mr. Miyagi-like speaking voice.

This film meets expectations; it is the small world of Walt Disney. In this place we find old, musty castles that look like a set of some new multimillion-multimedia ride; magic that’s performed by a lot of flourishes and flicks of the hands; quirky schleps that always end up with the beautiful girl (usually blonde). While occasionally we get some interestingly new ideas (the appearance of a Salem witch is unfortunately too brief), this is the glossy and familiar place of Disney magic … and Nicolas Cage. (In theaters.)

My Grade: C