Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mini-post: Inception, why it's only good, and why it'll be remembered

There's not a lot about Inception that hasn't already been said. The film has taken over popular media for weeks now. A multitude of sites have done an array of dissections in an attempt to decipher the full story of the film. Now, I feel this is in vain, as if we were supposed to know everything we would already. By viewing the movie, we've gotten out of it what Nolan wants us to get out of it.
But beyond that dissection is critical analysis of the film. Now this has also been overdone, but I feel as if most reviews tend to lean too far towards "messy film that sucks" or towards "god tier film, The Matrix of this decade." It's neither. Now, I'm a huge Nolan fan. Memento is one of my top 5 films. Insomnia, Prestige, and Following are examples of how his common themes of obsession can be so well expressed when edited in the right way. The Batman films are fun popcorn flicks. But Inception has sort of soured on me. A common theme in things I'm watching lately is carried over here: there's so much more that could have been done. The script feels like it collapses under such a grand and exciting premise; invading dreams could result in such wild adventures. And the film gives a look of having a diverse and compelling cast of characters. Instead, the film is nothing more than a psychological twist on a heist film. Normally, this would be excellent. But with such a huge amount of frontloaded hype, the film ends up being just very good.
I still think it will be discussed for years, though. Hopefully this film and Batman 3 become a sort of turning point for Nolan. I would love to see this director, who now has so much positive buzz around him, attempt to tackle a story in the vain of The Prestige or Memento. With a bigger budget and a guaranteed viewing audience, Nolan's creativity could end up defining his career, instead of the popcorn fun of Inception and the Batman films. Also, because the film does leave a lot open to interpretation and because many of the concepts of the film are confusing, conversation will continue and I'm sure more spin-off stories from comics to guide books will develop.
So in the end, I really wanted to love Inception. I only enjoyed it. The acting was good for what everyone was given, the two central stories of Cobb and Robert were great, the cinematography was excellent, and the action was done well enough. On the purely creative side, the movie doesn't really deliver. Hopefully this pushes Nolan to reevaluate the films he's making.

Twin Peaks: An awesome show that falls short of what it could be

"She's dead. Wrapped in plastic."

The title here may seem strange. Twin Peaks is awesome. It's one of the best TV shows I've ever watched. And yet, from interviews with the cast and crew (mainly David Lynch) we can see that this show is still another story of network pressure changing the face of a show in a way that nearly maims it.
The first season of Twin Peaks is as perfect as it gets. From minute one, every character is engrossing and multi-layered. The setting immediately grips the viewer as both a place so usual and so strange. And while the central story surrounding the brutal rape and murder of high school student Laura Palmer is the most interesting, the stories of the town that grow from that central plot feel so organic. Slowly, the show transforms from being about a murder in a small town to being about that small town, in all of it's quirkiness. The way that town so naturally grows is infectious. If someone had told me I would one day be interested in a show that contained a plot about a waitress with a jailed husband and her new love life with a gas clerk who is married to a pirate lady...well I would consider that person mentally unstable. But the way every character has relationships with others creates a web, and with the Palmer case at the center, I couldn't help but dive into this town and enjoy it all.
Lynch also uses clever techniques to engross and frighten the viewer. Lynch ignores the common tropes of "pop-out" scares and grossing out the viewer to instead deliver scenes that are so unbelievably out there that they become terrifying. Speaking backwards and midget dancing doesn't sound scary, but when our protagonist Dale Cooper has a vision of just that, along with the murder victim, it feels as if Lynch has destroyed the boundaries of what could happen in a show with so basic a premise. And not only these scenes are scary. Using wide and static camera angles for simple events like conversations, we can contrast the discussions of drug deals and darkness in the woods with ordinary context environments like a diner. With that contrast allowed, we can feel as if the blackness that permeates Twin Peaks can reach us at any moment.
This feeling of inevitable consumption by something out of our control continues until the first third of season 2. The behind-the-scenes story here is that the network pressured the show into revealing the killer of Laura Palmer and wrapping up her story in general. From my viewing of season 2, I feel this was an awful choice. The episodes that reveal and then kill the murderer, the spirit BOB that has taken control of Leland Palmer, are wonderful. They're tightly dramatic, violent, and twisted. Did Laura know that it wasn't truly her father hurting her? Could Leland have done more to stop it? Is there any way to stop BOB?
We are still left with questions, but the story moves on to a different plot for Dale Cooper. Here's where it goes wrong. The show removed the center of the carefully crafted web that guided the show, but tried to keep all of the outer strands. The new middle didn't feel related, and therefore lessened the impact of every single storyline. Even with Wyndom Earle being a great adversary and a compelling character, the rest of the season until the finale feels almost flat. For the first time, storylines began to annoy me. I could barely handle Nadine having the mind of a high schooler. The beginning of an Audrey/Bobby romance only to have it become Audrey/Random Man was annoying. Andrew Packards return and Josie's demise are slightly interesting, but too drawn out. They also aren't given enough previous meaning.
The series finale reveals how great the season could have been without network meddling and with more involvement from Frost and Lynch. By the finale, we are shown that Earle wants to summon the power of the Black Lodge. By then, his quest has grabbed some other characters, and the show has started to gain the same dramatic weight it had at the beginning. But there are still lose threads, like Audrey, and the Packards and Pete, and the Ed/Norma/Nadine love triangle. My retroactively proposed solution (I am sure there are better stories that could have been told; this is more of an example of what season 2 could have been): if Leland hadn't been revealed as the killer, or even if he had but the characters knew BOB was still on the loose, the season could have included not only the search for Earle, but also the search for BOB/Leland. All of it could have lead to the Black Lodge in the finale. This would have kept the same central story from the beginning, gaining more emotional draw and still pushing forward. Imagine the fright to have Dale enter the Black Lodge in an attempt to finally stop BOB and save Annie from Earle, only to have the same events happen. It would instill hope in the viewer: this has come to an end, BOBs victims are vindicated, Earle is dead, and Annie and Dale can be happy. But with BOB being inside Dale, a season 3 involving the rescue of Dale and maybe a trip to the White Lodge to finally vanquish BOB would have continued to be compelling by being related to the original murder. And picture a dark scene early in the season where Dale murders Ronette, and then investigates it later.
The opportunity for chilling moments like that were there, but an invasive network and distracted creative team prevented Twin Peaks from achieving true perfection for all of it's two seasons. Nonetheless, it's a frightening and infectious show that will occupy all areas of your mind, and I recommend it to all.

(Side note: I did watch Fire Walk With Me, but I found all it did was weaken Laura's character, create illogical stories for others [bobby murdering? what?], and create a way for Dale to be saved, which was unnecessary after cancellation. Overall, unremarkable and I'd rather ignore it.)

"Black as midnight on a moonless night."

Why Kid Cudi's new album will either be amazing or awful

Kid CuDi - "Erase Me" (feat. Kanye West) (CDQ) by Some Kind of Awesome
The first full studio album from Kid Cudi, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, was one of my favorite records of the last year. I'm not usually into rap, but Cudi's songs were emotionally involving and catchy. Cudi has great rhythm, and the narration throughout made the entire experience cohesive. Overall, his album felt like something that was meaningful and different, yet still really fun.
From listening to the first two songs off of his newest album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, which is set for October of this year, I feel Cudi will accomplish several of these things again. Both "REVOFEV" and "Erase Me (feat. Kanye West)" have great beats and practically beg to be sung/rapped along with. It also changes up his formula a bit, with a heavier leaning towards rock-style guitars and slower tempos. Cudi's delivery on the tracks is great also; his rapping has only become better.
However, I am worried that the album won't be as emotionally connective and dark. The End of Day follows the premise of a journey into the depths of the mind of this rapper. It's a look at his addictions, his desires, and his true feelings. This provides the album with a very personal and psychological feeling. But The Legend of Mr. Rager goes in the other direction. Mr. Rager is what the rapper calls his public alter-ego, the man you see on stage, and the man who is now famous. It tells stories from his real life. This is where the album will either fail or succeed. If Cudi can make the tales of Mr. Rager interesting and appeal to emotions, the album will garner the same personality that won me over on the first album. But if that emotion isn't backing the tracks, I'm worried it will be largely boring and just a vehicle for him to deliver radio singles.
Regardless, I'm excited for the album to release.