The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Dreams are fascinating because they're so mysterious. Despite tons of scientific theory and research, no one knows for certain how these mini-movies form themselves in our unconscious minds or how the imagery in them is chosen. Filmmakers have been drawn to the dream world for years. It was the basis for the Nightmare on Elm Street series, along with numerous other big screen stories. Writer/director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) is the latest filmmaker to venture into the subject with Inception. This is not only the best movie ever made about dreams, it is also one of the best films of 2010, and certainly one of the most entertaining pictures I've seen in a decade.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a very specialized kind of thief; he's able to get inside the unconscious mind of others to "steal" their most private thoughts, secrets, or information. He does so in conjunction with a "point man" named Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who manages the process, and a "forger" (Tom Hardy) who can morph into other people in a dream. Cobb is hired by businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) to engage in a bit of corporate espionage, which involves Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy), the heir to a major company that rivals Saito's. Carrying out the job will require the previously untested theory of "inception," i.e. planting an idea in Fischer's head as opposed to stealing one. Cobb hires a student architect named Ariadne (Ellen Page) to design the maze-like levels of the dream into which they will place Fischer.

The process is complicated, and part of what makes Inception so much fun is the way it revels in the logistical details of what Cobb and crew do. Just as there are dream thieves, there are also "projections" within trained minds (such as Fischer's) that try to prevent anyone from entering their subconscious. The projections actively fight the invaders in dream sequences that are full of hypnotic action. Another cool component is that, in order to implant the idea in Fischer's head, the team has to orchestrate a dream within a dream within a dream, with everyone running around different levels of consciousness simultaneously.

Christopher Nolan is, of course, a master of balancing complex plots, having also given us the twisting-and-turning delights of Memento and The Prestige. To his credit, he stages all the scenes with great clarity, so you don't get lost even as things are happening on multiple levels - provided you're paying attention, of course. Getting up to go to the bathroom or refill your popcorn tub could result in losing your way, because something essential is always happening.

The story creates its own rules, based on actual dream states. There is great ingenuity to the way Nolan incorporates familiar dream-based things into his screenplay: hard-to-define time frames, the inability to sense the beginning of an event because one is always plunked right into the middle of the action, the way you wake up if you fall or die in a dream. All of these are incorporated into the story, which makes an excessively fantastical idea seem grounded in things every one of us can identify with.

There is some tremendous action along the way. Dreams don't follow laws of time, physics, or logic, and so Nolan is free to create action scenes that take us to unexpected places. For me, the show-stopping sequence has Arthur fighting off a series of projections in a gravity-free environment. How the scene was shot, I have no idea. In another segment, an entire city seems to fold over on itself. The visuals in Inception are mind-blowing, and I respect the way Nolan uses just enough CGI to make his point. This is not one of those movies that CGI's you to death; the director uses effects to create a world you can get lost in without being overly aware of the artifice. It's a fine line because the story takes place in a world of unreality, yet the audience needs to buy into it. Nolan walks the line flawlessly.

Lest anyone think that Inception is just a big, loud action movie, I want to say that the film worked for me on an emotional level too. There is a subplot involving Cobb's late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), who remains in his dreams and has a way of following him when he invades the dreams of others. Gradually, Ariadne learns more about what happened to Mal and the impact it's had on Cobb. These scenes are quite powerful, with Cotillard and DiCaprio delivering gut-wrenching performances. They also provide Cobb with some motives for engaging in his line of work.

Inception has it all: strong acting, outstanding visuals, amazing action, and a commitment to ideas. I wish more movies were as unafraid of being intelligent as this one is. The chase through dream worlds isn't just a gimmick, but rather a way of exploring the knowledge that we all keep things hidden deep inside our minds. I was riveted to Inception for every second of its 148-minute running time. The story draws you in from the very beginning and keeps you engaged throughout. It is so compelling, in fact, that you will likely want to see it more than once. In a summer movie season that has given us an unusually large amount of garbage, it feels like a miracle to find a film as rapturously entertaining as Inception.

( out of four)

Blu-Ray Features:

Inception will be available on December 7, on DVD or in a 3-disc Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack, with a digital copy included. I checked out the Blu-Ray, which is packed with outstanding bonus material.

"Extraction Mode" is an option that inserts behind-the-scenes and making-of segments throughout the movie. You can also access the information separately as a 45-minute stand-alone feature. Among the highlights are Christopher Nolan talking about how he conceived and developed the story, a look at how the Paris café explosion was created (there wasn't as much CGI as you'd think), an explanation of how the fiberglass shell of a freight train was placed over a semi-truck and driven down a street for one scene, and a glimpse of the massive hydraulic system used to create the "tilting bar" sequence. Hans Zimmer's brilliant score is examined too. Also in Extraction Mode, you will find my favorite bits, which reveal how the amazing rotating corridor fight was filmed, and how the shots of weightlessness were achieved. These are some of the most well-produced and entertaining extras I've ever seen on a DVD.

The second disc begins with "Dreams: Cinema of the Unconscious," a 45-minute documentary, hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in which experts in dream science explain theories about how dreams work and why we have them. Their similarities to movies are noted as well. One expert even tells you how to have "lucid dreams," i.e. dreams that you can control. Christopher Nolan appears to discuss the ways in which he used the elements of dreams to emphasize the mystery in his story. This is a fascinating feature, which teaches you things about dreams while also making you realize just how detailed the film itself is.

"Inception: The Cobol Job" is a 15-minute animated prologue to the movie, showing how Cobb, Arthur, and Nash came to be involved with Cobol Engineering. The chapter is presented as a "motion comic," which is like a comic book come to life, with characters moving and text bubbles appearing on screen. It is a very cool precursor to the events of Inception.

"5.1 Inception Soundtrack" is a virtual jukebox, allowing you to listen to Hans Zimmer's isolated score in dazzling 5.1 Surround Sound. The set is rounded by an assortment of trailers and TV spots, a conceptual art gallery, and promotional art archive, and "Project Somnacin: Confidential Files," which is a feature you can access via BD-Live.

All in all, the Inception Blu-Ray is beautifully put together and packed with thoughtful, informative supplementary material. Like the film itself, this is first-class all the way.

Inception is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout. The running time is 2 hours and 28 minutes.