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Ah, such a wonderful, beautiful mess of a film.

I find it strange how I’ve seen three of Luhrmann’s five films.  I don’t recall Romeo + Juliet much (and I haven’t seen Moulin Rouge! either), but I do remember Australia being two epic films connected together by a montage of sorts.  It was strange, and disconnected from itself, but it was big and bold and certainly impressive.  Gatsby shows that off again, with the grand scale, how big and stuff everything is, and how it threatens to overwhelm everything at times.  It’s melodrama is so over the top at times too, and yet it’s that melodrama that drives the film forward to its devastating, tragic end.  The voice over is all over the place at times.  It’s a mess, but it’s such a great mess.

Oh, and the soundtrack and score is incredible too.  It shouldn’t work (especially the use of modern pieces over some specific 1920s era parties), but it adds a certain flavor to it and gives it new energy and passion in the proceedings.  Again, big and beautiful and messy.  I’m curious if that’s Luhrmann’s motif in general.

All the actors are in top form here.  DiCaprio is certainly awesome as Jay Gatsby, a man with great charm but who hides behind many secrets.  Carey Mulligan, one of my favorite actresses (see An Education, Never Let Me Go, Drive, and Shame as prime examples), is once again great as Daisy Buchanan, playing well with a character who is more superficial than she appears.  Tobey Maguire is good as Nick Carraway, the man stuck in the middle of Gatsby wanting to relive his past and trying to figure out his own future.  I really like Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan though, a truly rat bastard of a character.  His performance probably sold me on how much I hate his character.

The story itself is fine.  I haven’t read the book in years (though I should), though Jean told me this was a pretty good adaptation of it.  What I think the film does well, and it’s a credit to Luhrmann in general, was to create the craziness of 1920s America, when Wall Street was making tons of money and prohibition fueled cheap liquor and speakeasies all over.  The color and the fashion reflected that, but also the energy and passion.  It showed off rather well too the excess of everything, and how easy it was to both rise to prominence, but also how quickly one can fall, and how hard that fall can be.  The stock market crash that followed a few years later is a grim reminder of such things, and it reflects a lot too on the most recent recession in 2008, where people lived hard and fast and beyond their means, only to see it disappear when the stock market fell and banks foreclosed on a lot of people.

So yeah, the film offers a bit of something beyond the excess and the glam.  It’s interesting in that regard.  It’s Luhrmann though: expect beauty, expect things on a grand scale, expect a mess.  You won’t be disappointed.

EDIT: Jean and I saw it in 3D.  It looked really good, surprisingly.  Just wanted to add that.

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Warning: due to the nature of this film, there may be spoilers.

Now then…

Usually by now I have some sort of idea as to what I can say about a particular movie, especially for the ones that I write a week late.  They’re easy enough to figure out and write about, noting their qualities and their short comings.

Christopher Nolan, sir, you’ve given everyone something to chew on.  Like that overcooked steak that’s impossible to chew, or, for a more vegetarian friendly example for myself, … erm, I really can’t say.

Anyway, this film has its markings in several genres.  It’s definitely science fiction, that’s for sure, but also has the neo-noir influence wrapped in it as well (the sci-fi noir, as some may go on and call this).  It’s a thriller, and one may consider it a heist thriller as well, at least that’s how the most recent trailers tried to play it as (successfully I might add).

There is no time or location setting: this film could take place right now or twenty years in the future.  Everyday architecture is used quite well, with Paris and the chase scene in Mombasa (filmed in Tangiers) being the best used.

But it’s the dreams everyone is wondering about.  The dream within a dream within a dream, and that’s the riddle, the maze.

In essence, that’s the allure of the film, trying to figure out the riddle.  I’m curious as to whether there is one – actually, the last shot is the biggest riddle, which I will refuse to discuss here – as the film is essentially a heist thriller.  The riddle – the dreams and more dreams – give the film its impressive depth.

There are two main plot threads, both involving the concept of “inception”, which involves planting something, primarily an idea or thought, within the dream to make someone believe that it was their own idea or thought.  Dom Cobb is the character central to both plots: he’s hired by Saito to plant an idea into the son and future owner of a rival energy corporation to disband the company before it becomes a true monopoly.  The other involves Dom’s wife, Mal, and I’ll leave that one at that.

For the main plot, Dom creates a team to help infiltrate the mind of Robert Fischer (the son): Arthur, the Point Man for all of his missions; Eames, the Forger, who assumes the identity of a person that the infiltrated knows; Ariande, the Architect, who is required to build the dreams, each one more elaborate than the next; and Yusuf, the Chemist, who has a chemical that allows the dreamers to stay asleep for a much longer period of time, with an unexpected payoff for anyone who “dies” within the dream.

As you can see, this film is filled to the brim with plot, which unfortunately sacrifices a lot of character development.  Everyone has some semblance of a personality, usually to make their required traits or skills.  Dom is the only one who gets a lot of development though, much in part due to the film being as much about him as it is about attempting to infiltrate a man’s dreams.  Because of this, he’s the only one we can really care for, even as we learn stuff about him and his wife, and what he ended up doing along the way.

The lack of character hurts the film only slightly, as this is a plot driven film from beginning to end.  It’s tightly wound as much as it can be, which, given the way the movie is as layered as the dreams are, is truly incredible to behold.  It’s not every day when you go to a movie like this one and be required to think.

Actually, I do it all the time (look at most of the indie movies I’ve seen this year), but it’s rare for a major studio release to give us something this thick and juicy to think about.  That’s probably what the science fiction genre allows for us to do is think, and to think in especially complicated ways, often about the meaning of life.  Inception gives us a little piece of that, throwing us into a world of dreams that may or may not be like ours.

It’s also an exciting action thriller, and as such, you can still switch your brain off enough to not have to think about everything and just enjoy it.  Seriously, this movie is almost impossible to beat: a deep thinking movie and an excellently filmed crime thriller to boot.

In all honesty, keep your brain on.  You’ll find that you’ll enjoy it much more if you allow yourself to ponder everything that the film throws at you.

Especially the last scene.

A-

Note: the score by Hans Zimmer is equally as impressive.  Listen to it at times and you find a hint of sci-fi noir in it as well, almost like the Vangelis score from Blade Runner.

I have to hand it to Martin Scorsese: he knows his craft, and he knows it well.

I say this because, even though Shutter Island isn’t the best thing it’s made, it’s still pretty damn good.  The story is one of those mystery suspense thrillers, in which the lead character, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) investigates the disappearance of one of the island’s patients.  He also can’t get the images of his murdered wife out of his dreams, which drives him to find the missing patient and to find another one of the island’s patient who is apparently behind the murder.  And, everything on the island itself isn’t what it seems: the head doctor, the administrators, the orderlies, everyone knows something that Daniels doesn’t.

I’ll stop that there, because there is a few twists along the way (including the final big reveal) that I won’t divulge.  I will say that, save for the final reveal (mainly because that one’s a shock), the revelations come subtly.  I had some feeling as to what the twist was going into the movie, but I guessed incorrectly.  Everything was there too.  If it wasn’t, I’d blame it on poor film making.  But this is Scorsese, and he handles his craft well.  He takes his players, set them all up, and when it comes time to figuring everything out, he eases it all in there.  He’s in no rush to tell his story (the total run time is 138 minutes, which is slightly shorter than some of his grander films).

The music is excellent throughout as well.  The opening notes over the title card suggest something large and ominous occurring, and doesn’t let up at all.  It’s handled even better with the reveals, simply because it doesn’t dominate the sound.  It’s the characters that show everything that’s going on, and with a cast that includes DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams, you know it’ll be done well.

Which is what this movie ends up being overall, a well done dinner.  Paramount stated that the reason it was delayed was because of financial reasons: they didn’t have the money to promote it during the awards season.  Personally, I’m not sure I see this movie winning much of anything, but it’s still pretty damn good.  An excellently structured, well acted, and well shot film.  What more can you ask for?

A-