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July 13, 2010


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I read Extra Lives a few weeks ago and, as an intermittent gamer, found parts of it exhilarating. He absolutely nails what it's like to play the games he talks about, and the peculiar, contradictory situation the medium finds itself in. Subtitling it "Why Video Games Matter" may have been a mistake, though, because it gives the impression that the book's intended to have more of a unifying thesis than it does.


"country houses in the middle of urban plazas"

I don't know - this actually sounds remarkably like my own dreams! As for Nolan, he's a plotter of great imagination, but is he a visualizer on par with the greats? I don't think so, and I don't think you do either, but I keep hearing these comparisons being made to great directors of the past and they baffle me. Some of his work is not visually distinguished at all (the Batman films) while other films are, but not in any way that expresses a unique vision (Memento and The Prestige's visuals are mostly at the service of the plot, which is I think where Nolan's real skills lie).

As for the shallowness vis a vis Kubrick, it recently occurred to me that it is taken for granted that imagination and insight must be filtered through a strict code of character and motivation which would make a subject of the Hays Office blanche (I know, I know a mindbending epiphany, but still). The other day I watched Beetlejuice and I realized that it would pass for extreme avant-garde wackiness in today's Hollywood - what with its wild tangents (calypso possession), odd structure (Keaton doesn't show up till 2/3 in), and it's not being an adaptation of a comic book or "reboot" of a 15-20 year old franchise. And this is Beetlejuice we're talking about. A sad comment on the American film industry...

I do look forward to this though - dream films, particularly city dream films, fascinate me.

By the way, and I apologize in advance, you've been tagged again (crafty how I snuck it in at the end here, eh?): http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2010/07/in-beginning.html

The Chevalier

Shouldn't it be 'Kubrickian' not Kubrickean'?...


Personally I'd rather have Nolan or, say, David Fincher being likened to Kubrick than (as David Bordwell once preposterously suggested) M. Night Shyamalan.

"A cold guy who makes cold films"? Geez, even the insults directed at Nolan bring Kubrick to mind!

Eric Wheeler

Oliver_C, does Bordwell make that comparison (of Shyamaln and Kubrick) on his blog? I Googled it but I couldn't find anything. Could you offer a link? (Or is it in one of his many, voluminous books?)

And while I agree that plot is typically the strong point of most Nolan films, I feel like it REALLY got away from him in The Dark Knight. Complexity=cramming as much narrative shit as you can think of into a feature-length running time and trying to gloss it over with triple parallel editing.


"Anthony Mann's The Heroes of Telemark, speaking of underrated"


Grant L

Thanks for the above, Glenn...I've had to make my way very carefully through reviews of Nolan's stuff, and just stop reading when words like "visionary," etc. come up. The Memento raves really started me out on the wrong foot in that regard: its "revolutionary" structure (imagine that, a story told backwards!) or the assertion that it's so complex "you can never get to the bottom of it." I realize it's a matter of some internet debate - what if Pantoliano is just telling him more lies at the end/beginning of the story? Sorry, I don't buy it. As far as I can see, it's a puzzle film just like all his others, there is a definite solution which is revealed, and if one is paying attention, one viewing is all it takes.

On the other side of my bitching and moaning scale, what about those critics (none of whom turn up around here, I hasten to add) who go on about how dumbed-down so many recent films are, but who, when presented with something like Shutter Island complain about how hard it is to follow and how it doesn't add up to anything?


There are some offhanded comparisons to the anime film Paprika by some of the geek sites. I'm curious to check out the validity of these comparisons.


Haven't read the Bissell book on videogames, but I read his article on THE ROOM in this month's HARPER's yesterday, and goldamm if it isn't a hoot. I'd never heard of THE ROOM before (somehow) but I'm eager to see it, especially after checking out the multiple clips available on youtube.

Anyway, I assume you're aware of this article, Glenn, but if not, check it out posthaste - it's witty, insightful, and frequently hilarious.


llj - PAPRIKA is an interesting comparison, though I have to say the films that most came to mind while watching this were SOLARIS and, as Glenn mentioned, EXISTENZ. The former because they're both about the hero's memories being haunted by his wife, and those memories tying in specifically to the job he has at hand, and the latter because while both it and INCEPTION are both entertaining, I don't think they're as profound as they think they are. That said, I do want to watch INCEPTION again.


Can't think why, but the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band's Canyons of your Mind has been absolutely haunting me recently. Is it on the film soundtrack?


I agree, pretty much entirely, with this review. Well, that's it for me.


I agree with this review as well, and definitely saw the Shutter Island connection. Marion Coilltard's Mal made me think of one of Philip K. Dick's women, in that she was alluring but unstable, which gave me another level of this movie to enjoy.


why isn't anyone mentioning the matrix while talking about Inception?


Two thoughts while watching Inception:
Wanted to see Richard Burton suddenly appear to bleeping strobe lights and scream "Pazuzu!"....also why Resnais' Je t'aime,je t'aime has never been available. Or is it? Would love to see that again.

Ted Haycraft

I posted this comment over on SHADOWPLAY but felt I should also repeat it over here (since I arrived here from that site!):

"Also Nolan has stated that his favorite Bond film is ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and boy, there are shots during the snow action sequences that are directly lifted out of that film big time!!!"

You & David have brought up THE HEROES OF TELEMARK (and rightly so) but the OHMSS influence is even heavier (IMHO).



Two thoughts while watching INCEPTION: "How long is this damn thing? I gotta piss!"...also, I guess I should be grateful that my lifelong wish to see a version of ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND directed in the style of Roland Emmerich was fulfilled, but now I just feel empty.

Dan Coyle

I just got back from Inception, I liked...

...OR DID I?


Kent Jones

I am sorry to say it, but along with my 12-year old son and my friend, I walked out of INCEPTION. We could only take an hour of it. If I'd been on my own, I might have stayed but then again I might not have.

I didn't think it looked good. I couldn't understand a word Ken Watanabe said and I had difficulty understanding Marion Cotillard. The relationship to real dreaming seemed only fitfully right. But what really bothered me was the fact that every time someone opened his or her mouth, gallons of expository dialogue poured out - EXPOSITION would have been a better title. Every scene was crammed with rules and explanations of terminology, and after a while Ellen Page was the only thing on screen that held my interest. It struck me as a big-budget mega-blockbuster issue - I can just picture the studio executive meeting with the head of marketing and going back to Nolan to tell him that everything needed to be explained. A shame. I like Nolan, I like his superhero movies and I really enjoyed THE PRESTIGE, but this seemed both obviously his and not very good. But, audiences are going for it in a big way.

Jon Hastings

I guess I don't buy the "cold man/cold movie" thesis, because Inception is the only of his movies that it really applies to. The Prestige is overflowing with messy, human-interest material (the way professional envy gets mixed up with resentment and revenge, for example) and Memento, which covers similar metaphysical ground as Inception, does so in a way where there seems to be much more at stake for the main character. Inception, on the other hand, is clever without being witty or imaginative or passionate, which makes it all feel kind of pointless.

Jeff McMahon

I'd like to suggest to Kent Jones that if he had stayed longer than one hour, the exposition would have paid off in a series of dazzling action sequences. And I'd like to ask if 'I didn't think it looked good' refers to the movie in general or to the cinematography/production design? Because both of those factors were, in my opinion, excellent.

Kent Jones

Jeff, it was the cinematography and the production design I was referring to - neither did anything for me. I was disheartened by what I saw and I really didn't get invested in it on any level. But of course you're right, I need to see the whole thing.


Actually, if Kent and his son had stayed past the first hour they would only have gotten more explanation of what was going on around them. Also, I've always been very puzzled by people who talk about Nolan's great action scenes. In my opinion, Nolan simply does not know how to direct action. He never establishes the geography of a scene, he shoots (as in the ridiculous Mumbasa chase scene) in medium shot, never giving us a sense of the body moving through a space.
This was the case in Dark Knight, Batman Begins and definitely Inception as well. At this point I think the only film of Nolan's that there's a chance I might like is Prestige - but I'm not running out to catch it...

Kent Jones

Donald, I remember hearing complaints about Nolan's action scenes at the time of THE DARK KNIGHT, and I have to disagree. I really like the business with the trucks in that movie, and the Hong Kong scene too. As for disorienting geography, that has been in fashion at that economic level of moviemaking for some time now. The action scenes in INCEPTION that I did see (the chase you cited, the bit with the cars and the train engine) might have done more for me if I'd had any significant emotional investment in any of the characters.


Kent, what "economic level of moviemaking" are you referring to? I'm presuming 100 million plus Hollywood budget films but wanted to make sure. I think disorienting geography is one thing, but with Nolan's action scenes there's no geography whatsoever.
But as you allude to in your last sentence, this is often part and parcel of what for me is his utter lack of story and character sense. Still, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the film if you get around to seeing the whole thing...

Kent Jones

Yes, $100 million+ was the economic level to which I was referring.

I'm not sure I understand what makes Nolan's action scenes any more or less disorienting that those of, say, Tony Scott or Michael Bay, and I'm at a loss to find anything remotely disorienting about the truck scene in THE DARK KNIGHT. The final section with the omnivision goggles is another matter, but I didn't find it any less clear than the action scenes in, say, FACE-OFF, where John Woo sacrificed his own geographical clarity for what was then becoming the rage, and still is.



First time, long time...

1) I wish Spielberg and Michael Mann would give a week-long seminar for Christopher Nolan called "How Intelligent Directors Can Shoot Action Scenes."
2) I wish Nolan had a stronger editor or collaborator who can tell him when his films are too damn long and overstuffed.
3) I wish that after 2.5 hours he had the courage to have a definitive ending and not that wishy-washy nonsense about whether it is a dream or reality...

Certainly he is a very imaginative and intellectual person with a keen visual sense, for which I am appreciative, seeing as how it is lacking in most movies these days, but after The Dark Knight and now this...well, see above.

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