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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

Check out my other column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp



A summer film that distills the best of what a blockbuster should be, INCEPTION is the thinking man’s action film that marries drama, wicked fast pacing, and the designation as the best big budget movie so far this year.

In literature, Marcel Proust’s “The Remembrance Of Things” is thought of a classic because of its exploration of memory and the acute moments that are triggered by the nature of living. It’s a familiar smell, it’s a taste that triggers flashes from a time that has forgotten. It’s a wonderful distillation of the nature of the mind and how it is able to start lines of thought merely started by a bite of Madeline cookies, a sip of tea.

To try and contain a review of Christopher Nolan’s masterstroke of space and time within the barriers of the written word is to not appreciate the multidimensional gambits he took in trying to make our own minds malleable. It’s a movie that brings together the talents of an ensemble that could not have been more well-crafted and chosen, a score that weaves its way into what’s happening on the screen as if it were the film’s sixth man that’s comes in at clutch moments, a directorial style that has all along been leading up to this moment, and a story that is nothing short of tight and lean.

To talk about this film’s plot is to take away a layer of ignorance that any person wanting to steep themselves in this world would best avoid, but merely recapping its plot doesn’t do much to diminish the astonishing moments that pepper this film’s running time.

Our protagonist Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is charged with one task in this film: plant a thought in a target’s mind and have them believe it to be his own. The mark here is Cillian Murphy who stars as Robert Fischer, Jr., a corporate player who Saito (Ken Watanabe) would like taken out of his way. The payoff, if this expert in thought extraction could do it, would allow DiCaprio to return to the U.S. a free man. What has kept him out of the country, what has kept him away from his children, what has made him a wanted man, is left for us to discover in small bits and bites on the way through the subconscious of Fischer, Jr.. Using a team that’s assembled of people that has more in common with Hermes than they do with the usual action movie tropes of ragtag mercenaries they all seem more likely to unwind with a glass of wine than they do handling the weaponry that takes this movie from being a clever idea and makes it a clever idea that might be Nolan’s best one yet.

The literal cat and mouse game that ensues once we get the groundwork laid about what is real in this world, what its rules are, what is possible, is without question one that filmmakers have to look at and be amazed by. What Nolan was able to do with a supporting cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy and Tom Berenger is something of an art itself. He was able to make every person earn the right to be on the screen and to harmoniously fit in with one another. There are no standouts, with the exception of DiCaprio’s sublime yet thunderous performance, and Tom Hardy’s real coming out party, per se but that’s the brilliance of the film. As a team they make up so much more than the sum of its parts. The synchronicity they share with one another makes this an uninterrupted experience unlike anything you’re likely to see.

What’s more, this film represents something about Nolan that many already know: he is passionate about telling a good story. Not just a story, but a good one. One that is airtight in its ability to thrill and excite you while also informing a part of human nature. All of his previous efforts are imbued with the small ways our humanity manifests itself in the acts of his protagonists and it’s no different here. Although, in this dream world the manifestations are literally interpreted on the screen, laying bare the psychoses that hobble everyone to some degree. Obviously here, a runaway train on the loose in a city street ought to be nothing less than spectacular if for no other reason than it is spectacular.

But Nolan doesn’t go the easy route as these visuals mean something more than what they are. Every piece of broken glass, every ice cold look from a passerby, they mean more than just what you’re seeing with your own eyes. The deception of inception is that everything is in front of you, nothing is hidden. Every question is answered and that’s the brilliance. What makes your mind hurt by the end of the film as you try and wrap your own sense of logic around what you’ve been presented is how it’s all right there to be interpreted. Lesser directors have made it an art form to hide its secrets, to throw out red herrings to toss you off its scent, but it’s the scent that means everything to Nolan as he made a world that feels too real.

It seems so simple that each and every one of us have a baseline with which to connect with this film. We all have to give in to our minds at night and at the very least allows for every person who sees this movie to understand, on some level, the totality of what’s going on. Examining the nature of memory was what made Marcel Proust such an unforgettable writer and it’s the very same thing that will make Christopher Nolan an unforgettable filmmaker.

Look Around You - DVD Review

look-around-you-checks-in-20100420112012536-000A television show that jettisons you back to an age when classroom instruction meant listening to an old coot ramble on about things that seemed antiquated to even the most basic of thinkers, Look Around You is a show that really isn’t for everyone.

Who it is for, however, are those who like their comedy on the subtle side, the kind of funny that comes from the absurd. What writers Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz managed to do was bring a piece of scientific nostalgia from the past (think Bill Nye The Science Guy circa mid 1970’s) and give it a language all its own. Look Around You examines common, scientific topics like music, water or the brain in a way that feels like they’re coming at us from that time. From a narrative and editorial standpoint these episodes wouldn’t be nearly as funny until the very laws of logic are conveniently left out of the program’s creation.

Very much like what Tim and Eric have managed to do for many, many seasons on Adult Swim, Popper and Serafinowicz deny you any chance to ground this straightforward science show in any kind of reality at all. It’s the mixture of the brilliant attention to detail and the ways in which these topics are covered as if it’s the gospel’s truth that make this a show that’s a must-see for any fan of alternative comedy.

The joke isn’t that nothing is as it seems, this could be done by any fool looking to make fun of programming from when we were children, but that no one ever gives the punchline. It wants you to go halfway and meet it as an experiment, for example, on the brain ends with the brain in question being suspended in brine and hooked up to a telephone making a phone call to the experiment conducting scientist to say how many nuts are in a jar that’s sitting in front of it. It’s truly bizarre but it’s bold in that it never feels the need to accentuate anything, nothing that would let anyone know this is all a big put-on. The level of restraint shown on this program only shows how serious they were taking this premise, of crafting a very short program of bogus science information that’s presented as if it were the truth, is something I rarely see. Performers want to let the audience in, to get them in on the joke. Look Around You is amazing in that it doesn’t give you anything but situations that you can either take or leave. It’s up to you to find the humor in the situation and that’s more than anyone could ask for out of comedians operating on another level.

About the DVD:

Look Around You is the BAFTA-nominated comedy series based on the unforgettable Open University and Television for Schools programs of the1970s. Through a series of gloriously deadpan experiments, we observe a colony of ants build an igloo, receive a telephone call from abrain, discover why ghosts can’t whistle, and reveal the largest number in the world. Science has never been so silly.

Special Features -

Advanced double-length module: Calcium
Little Mouse: full-length pop video
New exclusive commentaries featuring Robert Popper, Peter Serafinowicz, Tim Kirkby, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Edgar Wright, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Tim & Eric
Little Mouse commentary by Jack Morgan (BSc)
Pages from Ceefax
Play-at-home quiz pages
Additional music by Gelg
Test card


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