Warning: This editorial has SPOILERS for several films including Inception, Red and Kick-Ass. If you haven’t seen them yet, you may want to watch them first and then read this…
From my infrequent writings people might justifiably conclude I don’t like much when it comes to modern era movie offerings. Rest assured; there are also few of the so-called classics that fall in the “like” column. Still, throughout my short lifespan a number of movies have impacted the way I think, the way I look at the world, and what I find entertaining.
Like most people, I am unable to quantify what I like until after I see it. In general terms I can point to some things I might like, and other things I would likely hate, but even those preconceptions are often challenged by innovative and interesting offerings. I have written enough about stuff I found laughably bad, shallow, and uninspired. Let me tell you about a few of this year’s movies I did like.
In third place, there is Inception. I am not a fan of DiCaprio, or the Juno girl, but in this offering they are mercifully overshadowed by the source material. The imaginative and fresh premise lets me gloss over the weaknesses of the plot, and the occasionally contrived situations. And yes, part of the attraction is that it required me to work out complex ideas regarding the world it presents, and the rules that govern it.
Then again, I am a sucker for anything related to the workings of the mind, and especially on how it might be manipulated. Once we accept the premise of entering other people’s dreams, Inception regales us with clever juxtapositions of the interaction between the real world and the dream world as events simultaneously unfold in real time and corresponding dream time. That interaction results in a palpable sense of urgency as the action unfolds, and keeps us in suspense.
I’ve heard people express a desire to live in Pandora, but offer me up the possibility of living a thousand years in a world I can control and tailor to my needs, and there is no comparison. In that time my body may be dying in the “real” world, but as humans we already spend all of our conscious time in a construct of our own minds as we inexorably hurdle toward our demise; a construct based on the understanding of the world around us. Not much different than what is offered up in the movie other than the added option of control. Pandora can suck it.
The conflict in the movie cleverly explores that very choice. Di Caprio’s character, Cobb, has an option for an idyllic life with his wife in a dream world; a wife who has already consciously or subconsciously made that choice. All he has to do is let go, and buy into the illusion. Repeatedly his wife asks, and he avoids, for him to look at their children; he knows if he looks at them he will be lost to the illusion. The children are why he can’t buy into the illusion. He knows they are an illusion; he knows the construct is not the real thing. But his wife is willing to live the lie; she allows herself to believe the construct is the reality.
When he does convince her to return to the “real” world, she cannot accept its reality; how can this limited world be what is real? How can this flawed world compare to imagined perfection? Why wouldn’t she rebel against the limitations, struggles, pain, and suffering of the real world?
I don’t know if it was an intended parallel, but it’s one I drew; many people prefer to live the illusion rather than face the harshness of reality; like her character they want to escape the real world. I know many who try to escape it using drugs, alcohol, and sometimes by doing what she does; living in an alternate reality of their own construction. Some eventually make the same choice she does, and choose a more permanent means of escape.
That was also a clever twist; you could escape from the dream world by dying in it . . . except when you are in too deep. You are then forced to handle what comes your way, for if you die when you are too deep, you die in real life. Knowing you are in a fantasy world, knowing you have a life to get back to, offers up a strong incentive to see it through, and get back out. As I said, it’s a clever juxtaposition of real life, where people sometimes choose to make the ultimate escape rather than face the arduous journey. That juxtaposition is what builds increasing sympathy for the motivation of the hero/protagonist, the guilt he carries, and the struggle to resolve his situation.
But, I would not be me were I not to complain a bit. For as good as the movie was, for as entertained as I was, I walked out feeling cheated. Yes, the ending bothered me, but probably not in the way most people think.
I don’t mind not knowing what happens. Indeed, I have my own theory as to whether he is still in the dream world or back in “reality”. What bothers me is the way it was done. For the whole movie we are observers; the action and plot unfold for us as spectators. Then, on the last shot, we are cheated. The spinning top . . . it wobbles, it keeps on spinning . . . the shot fades into the credits.
That shot is a cheat; Cobb will eventually know if the top keeps spinning or topples, whether he is dreaming or is in the real world, but we won’t. Nolan essentially turns to us, gives us the proverbial finger, and closes the curtains.
It needs not have ended like that. In fact, if Nolan wanted us to wonder, and to have us do so without cheating us, Cobb would not have spun the top; he would have laid it on the table and walked away. Having him look at the kids would have been enough to send the ambiguous message; he is either home again, or, tired of the struggle, he buys into the illusion of the dream world. In that scenario we are still a part of Cobb’s story, sharing its unfolding along with him. I can understand both his motivation for not wanting to know, and conversely, his motivation for wanting to believe he is home.
I could have bought into either scenario, working out my own reasons for real or dream world, but the shot of the spinning top removes that option; my data is incomplete. An action has been taken, and Cobb will eventually know the outcome, but I am no longer sharing his viewpoint, living his story. I am left feeling cheated; Nolan promised me a spectator’s seat, but I ended up with an obstructed view.
I saw this movie at the theater, and it won’t be available on Netflix until January, but I already know; that shot alone will keep this from being a movie I will buy. One more viewing ought to do it, and then I’ll let it rest . . . spinning in oblivion, as it were.
Few will agree with me, but I rank Red above Inception in my entertainment scale. That is the key word; entertainment. Red is a movie I will own, and I will own it mostly because of John Malkovich’s portrayal of Boggs. Make no mistake, all of the characters in this movie weave seamlessly into the unfolding tapestry, but Boggs steals the movie as the lovable eccentric homicidal paranoid comic relief.
Yes, it’s not fair; this is an action movie with lots of guns, fights, and subtly smart humor. It’s pretty much aimed squarely at me; how could I not like it? Well, I can tell you I will not own a copy of The A-Team, nor of The Expendables; they too are action movies, but they offer nothing beyond the gun-play and explosions. Don’t misunderstand; even with no plot to speak of, those movies are a guilty pleasure.
But Red offers characters who make us forget the wafer-thin plot. It helps the actors are all veterans able to slip into their respective personas without making it obvious they are acting. I even found Mary-Louise Parker passable in her role as . . . well, whatever her role was. And yes, none of these roles were a stretch for these actors. Well, maybe with the exception of Helen Mirren; I don’t recall her ever playing a gun-toting hit-woman who revels in her chosen profession.
Some portions of the movie harkens back to the original TV-series The A-Team; thousands of rounds being shot, and no one ever gets hit. In this case it’s OK because it is good guys shooting at law enforcement so as to keep them occupied; good guys don’t kill other good guys. Still, full automatic gunfire is not as controllable as one might think. It makes for an annoying, recurring, but ultimately small quibble with the movie.
There is not much more to say about this movie. No deep analysis of the plot, no exploration into the intricacies of human emotion motivating the characters and propelling the action. This is a high level of pure entertainment . . . at least for those who, like me, revel in the action genre.
And that brings us to my favorite movie of the year.
A long time ago I saw little benefit to reproduction, and therefore I opted to be stingy with my genetic material, keeping it out of the genetic pool. I might have opted different had I watched this movie during my fertile years, for who in their right mind would pass on the chance to raise their very own Hit Girl. No one ever told me you could mold kids into efficient, cheerful, snarky killing machines. Yes, I am speaking about the main reason to watch my favorite movie of the year, Kick-Ass. A few minutes after we finished watching the rental I was on the net ordering my own copy of Kick-Ass.
I understand the movie is based on a comic, and purists out there will likely laud the paper medium, and find fault with the movie adaptation. They will not sway me from my firm belief this was the best film I saw all year. The best film I saw in the past few years. In fact it ranks up there in my very short list of Most Favorites Ever. MFE movies are an eclectic mix of movies spanning genres and decades, but have one thing in common. They presented me not only with something new, but also with characters I wish I would have met in real life.
Pre-refrigerator Indiana Jones, Quigly, the crew of Serenity, Jason Bourne, Leon, Agent 47, and so on. And to that list, I now add Hit Girl. In fact, she vaults to the top of the Most Lethal Good Guys list, and does so with little effort, a great attitude toward killing, and a dedication and fearlessness matched by few.
Of course, there is more to the movie than a slice-and-dice killer kid; there is a genuine attempt to bring people to task for their increasing unwillingness to act, get involved, take ownership of the very human responsibility of helping others, and for people’s reluctance to challenge wrongdoing. Sure, it’s not a deep message, but it is presented with lots of humor, lots of bullets, and an over-abundance of squibs.
The title character exemplifies the positive motivation of the would-be hero; a desire to help. What motivates Kick-Ass is not revenge, or the responsibility associated with great power. There is great line in the movie; ‘With no power, comes no responsibility. Except, that wasn’t true’. He knows he possesses no special power, as brought home by a very painful lesson at his first outing, but he perseveres.
Big Daddy is somewhat flawed because he is motivated by revenge, but Hit Girl has a chilling innocence to her. She is killing bad guys, and that’s just the way it is . . . or rather, from my point of view, how it should be.
There is no malice to it, no remorse, no angst; she understands the simple truth. There are bad guys; they hurt and kill others, and that makes them fair sport. The casualness of the bad guys as they go about being bad guys is a great counter to Hit Girl’s casualness in taking them out; it’s just how things are.
I should mention . . . perhaps the best moments in the movie are those where the head bad guy, Frank D’Amico (well played by Mark Strong) attempts to comprehend the slaughter of his henchmen. Unlike the bad guys in superhero movies, he is not the kind of stupid who goes up against a super-powered hero. I’m sure were he challenged by a Superman or Spiderman, he would be smart enough retire, or move to another city. But these are regular heroes who dare oppose him, and the concept is obviously foreign to him, as is the culling of his minions.
A large factor in me liking this movie is the heroes are not restricted by idiotic limitation such as self-imposed rules against killing bad guys. And being regular people, there is no weakness to their powers; their power is their willingness to take action. Once that decision is made, their determination is the only limiting factor. Mind you, there are still weaknesses that can be exploited by the bad guys, but retribution is swift, deadly, and dealt by a little dynamo in purple hair and home-made regular-hero costume.
I know a lot of people do not like violence. Many others object to coarse language. Many will find it offensive to hear certain words spoken by an eleven-year old girl. Do yourself a favor; get over all that, and enjoy one of the best movies of the year.