Tuesday, December 21, 2010


"I know! Let's make a movie about a couple of ugly, doughy dudes."
"John C. Reilly!"
"Yeah, and that Jonah Hill kid."
"That's pushing the definition of doughy."
"Roll with it. OK, how do we get people to go see it, then?"
"We need some hot, to counteract the doughy."

And so it came to pass that Marisa Tomei co-starred in Cyrus, a movie about a broken-hearted man who finds the woman of his dreams, and her goofy, manipulative, adult son. Or so I like to imagine it, anyway.

Cyrus is a low-key, low-budget movie, which has some of the uncomfortable intimacy of a Woody Allen movie, some (but not much) of the zaniness of a Will Ferrell movie, and moments that are occasionally dark and are-we-supposed-to-be-laughing-at-this type stuff.

I didn't put it together, but this film is by the Duplass brothers, whose last feature, Baghead, I reviewed a couple of years ago. My reaction to this film is much the same: It's good in parts, well-worn in others, awkward in other parts, a little slow at times, but short and ultimately pleasing.

The Boy and the Old Man both liked it, the latter more than the former, I think, as he felt the resolution was reasonably just.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Of course, the problem with lagging so far behind in my reviews is that, by now, you've heard everything about the big movies like Inception and probably seen them parodied by now. (See "South Park" and Mary Katherine Ham on the "Rally For Whatever".)

Well, that's one problem. Another problem is remembering the movies.


Inception answers the question, "What if one of our greatest younger directors, Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight) remade that cheesy 1984 Dennis Quaid movie Dreamscape?"

And the crowd goes wild! (Raaaaaah!) But they always do with Nolan. Your mission is figuring out whether or not it's a good movie regardless of the hype surrounding it.


Well, it's...okay. Good, even. The cheesy 1984 movie was a fun, dopey popcorn flick. This is neither cheesy nor dopey, but it's also not as much fun. It's loud and serious; kind of grim, even.

The premise is that a team of people operate in the dream-sphere, influencing important people through their unconscious minds. (Not, like with the original, killing them.) What makes this particular mission special is that instead of influencing the person, the team is going to plant an idea. Hence, Inception.

The rules are as follows: Time in the dream world moves an order of magnitude slower than in real life. To wake someone up, you just need to push them so that they fall backwards—that triggers a reflex.

Also, it's recursive: You can dream up a dream-within-a-dream. And the dream-within-a-dream will be another order of magnitude slower. You can, in the logic of the movie, go down about four layers before hitting "limbo", a place where time moves so slowly that you can live a lifetime in seconds.

So, with our rules set up neatly and well in advance—okay, we've lost about a third of the audience, but 2/3rds of us ready for a good time! Sort of like Memento.

I actually didn't find the rules difficult to understand. But I didn't feel like the filmmaker was following the rules. And I found myself irritated by that. One of the best examples comes from one of the more famous scenes: A fight scene where because of a car accident on a higher level, the lower level is being made to go all topsy-turvey and the fight takes place on the walls and ceilings and so on.

But at the same time, there's a level under that which is completely unaffected by the tumbling around. Huh? Now, that's something that I'm pretty sure they didn't qualify, and even if it had, I'd probably have found it asking a bit much.

And this movie does ask a lot of you in the suspension of disbelief department. Falling backwards is the magic that pulls you out of one dream level back up to the previous one, but tumbling every which way doesn't?

I blame Leo DiCaprio. Heh.

I actually don't think I'm kidding. The real problem with this movie for me isn't the rules, it's that it just never engaged me emotionally enough to where I fully set aside my attention to those rules.

Now, I didn't have this problem with Memento. I didn't have it with Insomnia (which a lot of people viewed as a let-down after Memento). I had a little bit of this kind of detachment for the Batman movies. But here it's in spades.

And I think it's because I just don't care what happens to DiCaprio. It doesn't matter what movie it is. I didn't care if he was insane in Shutter Island. I didn't care if he lived or died in The Departed. I didn't care what was eating him as Gilbert Grape. The Titanic? Glad to see him go. (And the scenes in the staterooms with the poor people drowning makes me tear up every time, so it's not about the movie.)

It's not a personal thing, either. I've defended his performances; I don't think he's trading on his looks. (He actually looks kind of rough these days, I think.) But it happens that sometimes you just don't connect with an artist, an actor, a director, whatever. And it's pointless to try to describe why in the same way it's pointless to try to describe why you don't like brussels sprouts.

But where I felt for Al Pacino's weary, compromised cop (Insomnia) and Guy Pearce's complex amnesiac, I just don't connect with DiCaprio at all. And, while we're on it, all the characters are thinly drawn. As is the motivation for all these shenanigans.

Anyway, I'm overcompensating here. It's a good movie. There's a lot to admire. The score. The use of special effects, which is actually very restrained. (cf. the cheesy excesses of Dreamscape) The occasional moment of "Oh, wow, that's right, we're in a dream."

I'd probably write a lot more positive review if people weren't gushing over it like it was the next coming of Blade Runner. It's good. But I don't think it's the sixth greatest movie of all time, as IMDB voters would have it.

The Boy liked it quite a bit. The Old Man enjoyed it, though not without observing more plot flaws than I did. My advice, though, at this point is: If you haven't seen it, scale down your expectations a bit. Worst case is you end up being pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Case 39

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 30: You know, I don't remember!

"I recorded My Dinner With André!"
"What's it about?"
"It's two guys having dinner."
"Sounds boring."
"It does! But I really liked it--and I was The Boy's age when I saw it."
"Well, what did they eat?"
". . ."