Inception (2010)

Inception. Five years after seeing the 2010 Nolan mega-hit in theaters, I still asked myself whether or not the top stopped spinning. For a long time, I couldn’t accept the fact that one of the most ingeniously crafted movies of all time would end so ambiguously. There had to be something else there, some other hint to what is really going on at the end.

After some time, however, I grew complacent and rested on logic. Having seen the movie dozens of times, I saw little that pointed towards Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) still being in a dream at the end. Moreover, the top is clearly wobbling, and, generally, tops, like dreams, do not regain stability after they start to collapse.

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True Detective 2.6 – “Church in Ruins”

Like this season’s third episode “Maybe Tomorrow“, “Church in Ruins” did something important: it peeked out, briefly and with clear purpose, and tried to put forth something that we’d never seen from the series before. This is essentially the equivalent of inching the shower curtain open just enough to reach your arm through to grab your towel before the cold air comes rushing in — again: brief, purposeful, a foray into something different characterized with intent on avoiding that something different. I could continue to over-convolute this line of thinking, but, hey, if you’re entertainments of the more Byzantine variety, I give you True Detective.

“Maybe Tomorrow” was packed with humor, and it was the type of humor that ‘Tec had never engaged in until that point. “Church in Ruins” was a milestone of sorts, too, but far more difficult to pin down. Yes, there are way more going-ons in Season 2 as compared with Season 1 — cadres of tough-looking supporting characters in slim-fit suits, piles of dead bodies with/without eyes, hooker parties, gambling addictions, custody battles, missing blue diamonds, etc. etc. etc. You’d be forgiven for rewatching an episode or two out of confusion. But, really, the confusion one might have felt after “Church in Ruins” likely had nothing to do with what just happened and more to do with the weird way in which it all went down.

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Film & TV News: July 21


  • Sam Mendes has officially stated that he won’t return for a third Bond outing after Spectre… but by now, of course, we pretty much know to take these sorts of “confirmations” with a grain of salt. Mendes also teased that we might expect the artist of the theme song to be made public sooner rather than later.
  • Another Accidental Franchise Sam (this one’s Raimi) has given his blessing to Marvel’s high-school approach to the new Spider-Man. So, yeah. Rest easy.
  • We noted how weird the career of David Gordon Green is in our review of Manglehorn, wherein we also lauded the fact that he’s leaned toward smaller indie-feel projects like Manglehorn and Joe. Now Green will allegedly be directing Stronger, one of the many adaptations concerning the Boston Marathon Bombing, thus remaining one of the most unpredictable directors in Hollywood.
  • It Follows is now available on Amazon Instant Video and several other platforms, so your excuses for not watching it are really starting to thin out (you know who you are).

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True Detective 2.5 – “Other Lives”

“Other Lives” wasn’t so much a reboot as a remake, not so much starting fresh as simply starting from the beginning all over again. Following the massive, civilian-offing Heat-esque shootout at the end of last week’s episode “Down Will Come“, all four of this season’s protagonists find themselves down a few rungs on the Ladder of Success. Worth noting, though, that only Ray Velcoro has an arc that’s really worth investing in — and only Ray seems to realize what the Ladder of Success actually is. When Frank Semyon states that he thought being poor was behind him in “Down Will Come”, Ray shakes his head: “That shit never leaves you,” Ray says, “no matter how much money you make.” The sentiment is carried through when Frank, offering Ray a job, encourages him by saying that “a little rage can go a long way.” Ray, of course, even though he knows the answer, asks the question out loud: “A long way to where?”

And even though he knows the answer, he takes Frank up on his offer in the weeks following the harrowing gun battle. It’s now been three months since the murder of Ben Caspere. Ray has straight-up quit the Vinci P.D., Ani was removed from the special investigation and demoted to the evidence closet in the basement during the Internal Affairs probe into her sexual misconduct, and Paul has taken a job at an insurance company that he hates. Frank has moved out of his palatial brood-pad into a more modest Glendale brood-pad, still struggling to clamber back up to the “peak” he felt he’d achieved just before Caspere died with Frank’s money in his pocket. And all in all we’re back where we were during the premiere episode “The Western Book of the Dead“, seemingly no closer to catching Caspere’s killer.

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Focus (2015)

There was a time when I’d never met a movie about con artists that I didn’t like. You name it: the almighty Sting, the classic you-didn’t-even-know-this-was-a-con Usual Suspects, George C. Scott’s The Flim-Flam Man; modern takes like Matchstick Men, Catch Me If You Can, American Hustle; the super-rewatchable original Italian Job and the super-rewatchable remake Ocean’s Eleven. Some of these — like, say, The Spanish Prisoner — technically aren’t that great as far as cinema is concerned. Maybe that’s part of what’s so damn endearing about them: they’re movies, not films, which means they could conceivably appeal to just about anyone because style and fun outweigh technique and competence. I think I was just fine with that for a while, and I might still be.

But I also remember taking issue with Christopher Nolan (you: “who the hell are you to challenge Christopher Nolan?”; me: “I have as many Oscars as he does“) when he made the following comment about heist movies in an LA Times interview while filming Inception:

I originally wrote [Inception] as a heist movie, and heist movies traditionally are very deliberately superficial in emotional terms…they’re frivolous and glamorous, and there’s a sort of gloss and fun to it. I originally tried to write it that way, but when I came back to it I realized that — to me — that didn’t work for a film that relies so heavily on the idea of the interior state, the idea of dream and memory. I realized I needed to raise the emotional stakes.

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Film & TV News: July 16

Happy End-of-Comic-Con! In lieu of our traditional news posts (which contain, you know, news) and to make up for a missed post this past weekend (was on a bender — duty calls) we’re bringing you a special SDCC-centric news post comprised exclusively of the best trailers from this year’s legendary Con. What’s that you say? This sounds like a lazy way to “write” an article? Well, shit. Aren’t you a perceptive one.

First up are the big ones: amid the onslaught of superhero flicks on display in San Diego, DC Comics properties finally stood out with two impressive trailers. The first is Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice:

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Inside Out (2015): Pixar Goes to Therapy

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Inside Out.

The people have spoken. Original, well-written content is what they want, and they want it now! Down with all of these cliched remakes! I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say–what’s that? Ex-squeeze me? Jurassic World, of all movies, is breaking every box office record? Well then.

It’s hard to express how that makes me feel. I could scream and gag and cry and fall into a deep depression. And there’s no movie that can fix me. What’s that? Another off-screen interjection? I should look no further than Inside Out? So there’s hope after all… Continue reading Inside Out (2015): Pixar Goes to Therapy

Inside Out (2015)

Pixar’s most recent creation, Inside Out, is not a children’s movie as it is advertised to be. The animation and young protagonist, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), may suggest that the movie is for the ten and under crowd, but it most certainly is a movie that is better suited for an older audience. Now, this is not just a long-winded attempt at justifying the fact that I sat in a theater crowded with six-year olds to see this movie; it is a credit to Pixar for their ability to disguise an emotionally complex and subtly humorous film as a children’s movie. They have wisely used this model several times over, which has led to their vast success. Inside Out, even more so than other Pixar films, is able to not only entertain kids, parents, and everyone in between (or just me in between), but also provide a powerful message about the power and role of emotions.

It is no coincidence that Inside Out is a movie entirely about emotions, mostly centered on Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) because throughout the movie, at least the older portion of the audience goes on a journey of emotion as well, mostly between joy and sadness. As the protagonist Riley tries to adjust to her new life after moving from the comfort of her Minnesota home to San Francisco, we see how she and her emotions (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust) handle the transition.

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True Detective 2.4 – “Down Will Come”

Aside from Flags of Our Fathers, “Down Will Come” featured more flags and/or fathers than you’re likely to see in a given hour of televised entertainment. The stars and stripes are littered throughout the Vinci P.D. precinct, various apartments, random billboards (and last week’s episode “Maybe Tomorrow“, which aired one day after the Fourth of July, even had an American Sniper billboard). One of the many, many (many, many, many) guys that Frank Semyon tries to squeeze for extra cash has a little lawn flag sticking out of the pencil holder on his desk. There’s more national imagery in “Down Will Come” than any episode of the second season so far, but at least it’s more subtle than earlier lines like We were working for America, sir, which just land with a leaden and damn-near unpatriotic thud.

But far more interesting are the father-son (or -daughter, in Ani’s case) dynamics packed into the fourth hour, which begins with Semyon and his wife griping over their lack of offspring. Jordan proposes adoption, Frank scoffs at the idea of raising someone else’s sinner child; Jordan insinuates she might not be able to have children after “the operation”, Frank suggests more tests; ultimately, Frank pushes the issue off because of all of the other stuff he has going down at warp-speed, kicked off by Caspere’s murder and the sudden dissolution of his once-stable empire. Frank’s the kind of guy who needs his empire to sprawl, he needs land, he needs people to know his name, he needs legacy that lasts and refuses to be satisfied until he has it in full. Ironic, then, that a guy obsessed with his own empire can’t figure out what every emperor before him has discovered: those one-off kings who had no offspring to carry on their names? Those guys who stood in as buffers between one massive dynasty and the next? History isn’t so kind to those guys.

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Goodfellas (1990)

What’s your favorite shot from Goodfellas? I know, I know. It’s like asking which of your children you love the most. The sheer rewatchability of the seminal mafia film is largely due to the intimate composition of each shot, the flow of one into the next, the exhilarating pace of it all. Goodfellas arguably has more flashy camerawork than any other Martin Scorsese film, but it never feels out of place or discordant with the story. It helped that the Director of Photography was the legendary Michael Ballhaus, a cinematographer who worked frequently with Scorsese. In fact, it helped that pretty much everyone on the production was at the top of their game.

So the time has come: the pick of the litter, the crème de la crème, the nonpareil of Goodfellas shots. There’s the slow-mo Tommy Gun shot, the red-lit trunk shot, the explosion as Young Henry dashes into the foreground. There’s The One Where Samuel L. Jackson’s Stacks Gets Shot Out of Nowhere. Guns are pointed directly at the camera twice, and either time could qualify for short odds in this cinematography round robin.

Goodfellas (1990)
Goodfellas (1990)
Goodfellas (1990)
Goodfellas (1990)

There’s the Vertigo shot, one of the more drawn-out examples of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous camera trick:

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