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Cinema Signal: Won't engage you on an emotional level but very strong in creativity.

Memento
with Guy Pearce, directed by Christopher Nolan
(Discounted DVD from Amazon-only $8.99)

The Dark Knight
directed by Christopher Nolan
Two-Disc Special Edition
from Amazon
. "Inception"

The problem with high concept, futuristic thrillers like this is watching the characters emoting like mad and us, the audience, feeling little. While they go on with emotions at white heat, we sit there in cool regard.

But, that regard, in this instance, turns into utter fascination. Here, creative genius puts us into a state of amazement at what the CGI team was able to accomplish for an exploration into an imagined subconcious.

If the turbocharged pace allows us a level of comprehension, staying in the story as it speeds along is akin to living life on the edge of sanity. As Nolan leads us through his labyrinth of dream states, the complexities of the developments may well elude understanding in places, making the marvel before our eyes its own worst enemy. We remain detached.

The appeal of this, then, is not to the heart and gut so much as to the cerebral senses, the objective intellect. It's there that "Inception" shines with originality and with director Christopher Nolan's rare gifts in devising something fresh in action fantasy--not born on the pages of a comic strip. His major success with "The Dark Knight" was no fluke and the mental challenge of his "Memento" continues a fascinating strain in this work.

Through the agency of key character Dom Cobb's (Leonardo DiCaprio, "Shutter Island") introductory narration, we learn that in this future world some people have achieved the ability to extract information from the most resistive subjects. Care is taken in Nolan's script to avoid the notion of direct mind-reading. Instead, the extractor takes a subject into a shared dream state that appears real and which enhances the possibility of inducing the trust necessary for secrets to be freely expressed.

Cobb is known to be the best extractor in the business. He is hired by large corporations to obtain competitor's secrets.

Extraction is based on the idea that once an idea enters the conscious mind it will be retained in the subconscious forever. It's impossible, therefore, to unlearn an idea, which guarantees the extractor a secret worth going for.

The major mission in the movie is for Cobb & Co. to do something that's never been done before, Instead of extracting, the grand scheme here is for an idea to be implanted into the subject's mind. An "Implanter," if you will. But, since it involves the genesis of an idea, it's an inception.

The subject (or, the mark) is Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy, {"Red Eye"), the son and heir of dying industrialist Maurice Fischer (Pete Postlethwaite, "Clash of the Titans").

Cobb's team starts with his sidekick and detail man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt"The Lookout") and includes a diverse group of specialists. Ariadne (Ellen Page, "Juno"), is the architect because it takes one to devise the setting for a shared dream with clandestine intentions. Eames (Tom Hardy, "RocknRolla") is the forger, who has the skill to forge new identities into the shared dream as needed to effect the extraction (or to create havoc).

An especially colorful character is Yusuf, the chemist (Dileep Rao, "Avatar"), who devises a drug compound that enables multiple people to share different dream states. Ultimately, he'll improve on even that. Finally, there's Browning (Tom Berenger, "Breaking Point"), the subject's godfather, and Saito (Ken Watanabe, "Batman Begins"), the client of the operation himself--a powerful magnate who can pay Cobb with something a great deal more valuable for his services than money.

Ultimately, Saito's opjective of implanting the idea in Robert's mind to dismantle Maurice's corporate structure as soon as he inherits ownership and command of it, requires the never-tried-before venture of going down to a third level of dream state: a dream within a dream within a dream. This is a place that carries the risk of not coming back and being exiled to a endless state of limbo.

The dream-state gang, as they plot moves and strategies, creates the atmosphere and suspense of a heist movie, with all the suspense of timing and dire consequences.

But (and it's a big one) there's a rub in the ointment. Cobb is not what you would call "himself." He's a psychically injured man who can't stop grieving over his dead wife Mal (Marian Cottilard, "Public Enemies"), nor extracting himself from his fugitive state back in America where he's accused of being responsible for Mal's suicide. His natural dreams, including those of the daytime variety, sink him into abject despair as he yearns to exonerate himself so that he can return to his young son and daughter. His curse is that he can conjure an image of them at play, but without the ability to see their faces. As canny as Cobb is, he's an emotional basket case whose agony we observe with interest.

The complexities that flow from these ideas come with a considerable amount of confusion but a richness of mind-blowing concepts (hand-to-hand combat in weightlessness, buildings coming apart, the cityscape bending 90 degrees), extreme action and the incessant danger that comes when the person whose dream you're in inserts an iron locomotive on Fifth Avenue traffic or squads of killers trying to demolish you at every turn. It also comes in a 148 minute package that takes the edge of wonder off amazing effects and outwears its welcome way before the last act. Nolan's lack of discipline in movie length is unfortunate.

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The DVD
SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • The inception of Inception - Christopher Nolan shapes his unusual concepts for the movie.
  • The Japanese Castle: The Dream is Collapsing - Creating and destroying the castle sets.
  • Constructing Paradoxical Architecture - Designing the staircase to nowhere.
  • The Freight Train - Constructing the Street-Faring express train.
    (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)
    The Soundtrack

  • One would be challenged to recall a more exceptional and accomplished ensemble. Figuring in a corps of actors unexpected in this context produces surprises (Postlethwaite, Page, Michael Caine (Cobb's father-in-law and mentor Miles), Watanabe, Murphy) and the great excitement that comes of inventiveness in every choice. The last thing that went into casting this movie was a knee-jerk standard. There are no usual subjects here, and the few unavoidable stereotypes in the minor roles are totally outnumbered by a very fresh, anti-traditional take on the material.

    As might be expected, the visual/technical/artistic aspects of the film are everything they should be in order to serve the auteur's fantasy world. Nolan shows us new possibilities with a crew of extraordinary craft, from cinematographer Wally Pfister, editor Lee Smith, a team of art directors and a score by composer Hans Zimmer that immerses you in the pulse and tempi of the drama. There is mastery everywhere.

    For all that, this is a grandiose exploration of the subconscious and a blazing piece of puzzlemaking which demonstrates that the limit of creative vision is a constantly expanding universe to dazzle and bedevil our senses. In the right hands, what we see with our eyes can even trump that which aims for the gut. This will be a milestone of cinematic imagination every bit as significant as "Avatar" and deserving of all the kudos bound to be heaped on its auteur.

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  
    

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    Joseph Gordon-Levitt as point man Arthur
    In hand-to-hand combat where there's no gravity.

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