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Archive for the ‘Nolan, Christopher’ Category

Inception: Movie Review

Posted by Ronak M Soni on July 19, 2010

Originally published at PassionforCinema.


Inception (2010), written and directed by Christopher Nolan

Memorable Cast: Leonardo di Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Cilian Murphy

Plot: Dreams and espionage. The details are not important.

Note: A depressing lack of spoilers abounds below.

Even a day after having watched Inception, I’m not entirely sure how much I liked it. I mean, if you asked me to recommend it or not, I would say that it’s certainly not bad, but not really good either. The problem is, I don’t know what I liked and what I didn’t.

For me, this has been the sort of reaction every one of Nolan’s movies, except Batman Begins — as cut into 4:3 by HBO –, has elicited. While I liked Memento and its structure, the denouement left me strangely underwhelmed, in all probability because we hae the choice completely explained for us when it was completely obvious. Besides, I never really understood how a structure as clean as the one we see is supposed to simulate the feelings of one suffering from short term memory loss (in fact, I would say that I felt that sort of confusion much more strongly in reaction to Surya’s dementedness in the Tamil Gajini, though that performance in many ways makes less sense than Guy Pearce’s). While I thought of The Dark Knight as a good action movie, I always found it hollow in that it didn’t seem to have a morality of its own; again, I’m not sure if this was a good thing. Further, with my recent comic-renaissance, I understood that it wasn’t even a very good representation of the Batman mythos.

So, first thing about Inception, it isn’t anything too smart; as far as the fantastic elements are concerned, the plot isn’t grounded in any larger significance, it’s completely literal (and brainless), and as science fiction, it is chock-full of ideas for good ideas, but the good ideas never blossom, not really.

Second thing, Inception is actually two movies, both rather clichéd, one of which ambles over and plonks its arse on the climax of the other one in a strongly unsavoury manner. The first movie is a straightforward, brainless, and ultimately enjoyable thriller. The second is a somewhat fascinating exploration of the dangers of the dream-mythos Nolan creates. The problem with this one is that it depends on psychology, and Nolan’s writing of the psychology is too clean, too full of Hollywood staples. This is why it is only “somewhat” fascinating. In fact, the only reason it is at all fascinating is di Caprio’s heartfelt and affecting performance.

Third thing, its final shot has an ambiguity that is both emotionally wrong as well as too on-the-nose, in that it only tells us something that’s been obvious for a while (thanks to some shot-mirroring with as early scene, but Nolan seems to think of that as too subtle).

Now that I have given the movie a proper beating over the head, let me tell you that on a moment-to-moment basis, I enjoyed it immensely. I loved, for example, seeing Ellen Page bend a city over itself in di Caprio’s “subconscious” or Joseph Gordon-Levitt… eh, just the guy. The only times I stopped enjoying myself while watching the movie was when it referred to good ideas, or when it looked as if it was heading for a good idea but crash-landed in the desert. To be sure, there were very many of the latter sort of moments, but in general I enjoyed watching it.

In the end, however, I think that Inception’s most important contribution to the film world is to the superhero genre. Rather, its criticism. Now, whenever someone’s angry about Spider-man in a movie, they know exactly who to name in the present actor’s place: Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Of course, the ideal Spider-man would be much bulkier, but since in the present climate that is about as likely as Michael Bay making a great animated Batman movie, I look to the supremely flexible, supremely suave and supremely smart Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I can’t find a video of Gordon-Levitt’s fight scene thanks to which I say this, but the choreography of that fight is nothing less than awesome. Meanwhile, you’ll have to be content with this still:


Posted in Movie Reviews, Movies, Nolan, Christopher | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

“There were these two guys in a lunatic asylum…”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on June 21, 2010

Originally Published at PassionforCinema.

Book: Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Brian Boland and coloured by John Higgins.

Movie: The Dark Knight (2008), directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, starring Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaon Eckhart and Gary Oldman

I’ve liked as well as disliked The Dark Knight for various reasons, chief among them (for both sides) being that it never seemed to be clear on its own morality. Today, however, I may have come across the thing to perfectly demolish any hopes that movie ever had of coming over once and for all to my good side, something that may well mean that that movie will remain eternally in my disdain, and that thing, dear reader, is this:

That, dear sirs and madams, is a page from Alan Moore’s scary twenty two-year-old Batman: The Killing Joke. And, having read it only once, I feel convinced that this is the Batman interpretation. Why? Well, the reasons are various, and convoluted.

So, in keeping with the form the reasons have taken, let me start at the second act: for me, the strongest moment in The Dark Knight was this one:

Filched from Jim Emerson's site

No, it wasn’t because the Joker was enjoying himself. Let’s zoom in:

Yes, we must all stare at the arm, for it is the arm wherein lies the ultimate difference between comic and film.

And like all ultimate differences, it only bears mention for one reason, that it is this difference when looked at hard enough and from the right angle that gives way to the ultimate similarity between the two works of art.

Yes, ultimate similarity, for book and film – though neither is rehash of the other – are the same work of art. Or, rather, they are the product of the same vision. Not just a fuzzily similar sort of vision, but the exact same vision.

Okay, now the first act; let us go back to the remote days of childhood, days of darkness in which the only reason I took recourse to art was because I was bored, having no idea, no conception even of what was to come ahead. It was then that I first encountered the Joker, on TV, a white-coloured man with green hair wearing a purple suit. Funnily enough, I never remember having laughed at him, or having been scared of him; like most lasting memories from my childhood, I barely gave him a thought back then.

But, now I realise, I must always have had a morbid fascination with him, for how else would he be so much clearer in my head than other cartoon characters I spent infinitely more hours watching? Back then, I didn’t know the word, but in retrospect I can say that the characteristic of this apparition was that he was gaunt. And I mean Gaunt, like an anthropomorphic personification of the characteristic.

The reason he was like that, dear reader, is because he was designed that way. He was an evil maniac or whatever, but if Batman’s hand got to him, we knew it was over. Later, much later, as I would be going through my revival in comics, I understood that he needed this weakness; without it, he was too strong. I also understood that the gloomy environs were nothing more than a literalisation of the Batman’s innards.

I also understood that a superhero comic wasn’t just any old story, it was a mythos, a mythology endlessly told and retold, each time by a different fool, each time suffering from a newly thought up neurosis, what some would like to call a zeitgeist, if a zeitgeist could exist on a personal level.

See, we’ve been in the third act for a while now, for the third act is my return to comics, in June 2010.

And it is in this third act that I’ve suddenly come across a flush of some of the best novels I’ve ever read: a rediscovery of the beautiful intricacies of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, a surreptitiously acquired second-hand copy of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, being so profoundly disturbed that I was punching the side of a bus for an hour after reading Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass, and now… today! Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke.

Every interpretation I’ve ever seen of Batman has used the city to reflect the insides of Batman, and the Joker has always been this Gaunt Menace (another thing he’s the anthropomorphic personification of). Twenty two years ago, a man called Alan Moore, the very man who brought superhero graphic fiction to some iota of respectability with his seminal 1986 novel Watchmen, sought to re-imagine that trope, and in doing so bring to the forefront a few relationship dynamics that had always been simmering beneath the surface. Two years ago, an admittedly talented filmmaker and his brother re-imagined the same trope, and made the same statement with it, and were hailed as progressive genii for it.

Well, I don’t particularly mind the wrong person being hailed as the progressive – for it is a fact that it is the second much more often than the first to conquer new territory who is so hailed – and that’s without even taking into account the fact that he brought back vitality to a flagging yet unassailable genre in his industry.

No. What I really mind is that the hailed progressive was not a fraction of the real one.

See, both of them started with the same basic idea, however they may have framed it: what will happen if we give the Joker more power? Interestingly enough, both made exactly two major changes to the landscape of Batman.

The Nolan brothers, first they made the Joker a bulky, superhumanly strong nut job with big, beefy arms. Then, they castrated Gotham, as fellow blogger Stephen Russell-Gebbett once so ably noted in passing (if you don’t believe me, count the number of scenes that happen in the day with insane amounts of almost blinding light).

The Moore man, first he gave the environs to the Joker (look at the colour combination on the above shown page), and then he made the Batman vulnerable (making for a truly heart-wrenching climax).

See, both explore the same idea: that Batman and the Joker are aspects of each other. Yes, one does it in the world of allegory and one does it in the world of comics, but – as I’ve already said – comics are nothing but a mythos, an idealised, anthropomorphicised reflection of the real world; after the existence of The Killer Joke, The Dark Knight is no real achievement (except, and this bears repeating, in the particular cultural context in which it was made).

The Killer Joke has two sets, Arkham Asylum (which, I found out firsthand a couple of days ago, is named after something from H. P. Lovecraft’s world) and the Joker’s amusement park. These two sets, which appear the second after the first, are framed by the action of ripples, and the trickeristic play of light – deterministic, non-chaotic, yet unpredictable, action-consequence relations – and a joke, but there’s no use talking about that and spoiling it for you. The first humankind we see is the Joker’s hand… but it has spikes! The next panel reveals it to be a trick of the light on the Batman’s hand.

Arkham Asylum is the old comic-order, dark moody lighting. But lit by bright, harsh-bright, yellow. The amusement park is the same except there’s no shadow, and … details. This is a tableau infinitely more frightening in its dullest moment than anything the Nolanistic epic has to offer us, even including Heath Ledger dressed as a Joker dressed as a nurse throwing a tantrum that the bomb isn’t going off.

See, the problem with the film was that it gave its Joker physical strength, and a singular, expositioned motive; because, first of all, the Joker’s powers must lie in the mind, in the paraphernalia, in the visceral details that all but the Batman will miss, for otherwise he is a castrated Joker. Also, is there any villain more supple in nastiness than Iago, who has not one but three contradictory motives for being a bad guy, and is there anything more of an affront to the senses than a self-proclaimed Lord of Chaos? Assorted readers might think back to the sixth book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, whose eponymous Lord of Chaos proclaims himself so, but then they would be forgetting that that proclamation says as much about the character himself as it does about his position, unlike in the case of the Nolan’s Joker.

A castrated Batman, a castrated Joker… and you get a movie that is, even if well-directed, at its heart balless. And balless is one accusation that can never be laid at the feet of Alan Moore’s graphic novella.

In fact, it has, at its heart, one of the ballsiest movies ever made. Half an hour or so in length, it must be hand-animated, drawn by the same pair of Brian Boland and John Higgins who created the panorama that is this book, it must be in glorious 4:3 tall-screen, for this is the sort of paraphernalia that hangs over us, threatening to fell lest we do anything suspicious, the Joker ought to be played by the sort of voice we got to hear in those cartoons of yore, performed now without much laughing, the Batman performed by a Sylvester Stallone like voice except without the accent… and everything a but hurried, hiding away the secrets of the surroundings, exactly like in the book, in need of constant pausing so that it can only be truly enjoyed, again exactly like the book… and finally, sublimeness – even sublimation, if you should so wish – will be achieved.

Posted in Bolland, Brian (Illustrator), Book reviews, Books, Higgins, John (Colourist), Moore, Alan, Movie Reviews, Movies, Nolan, Christopher | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »