"I take orders from the Octoboss."


tn_greenbergGREENBERG (Ben Stiller from NEXT OF KIN) is a 40 year old sometimes-carpenter who, after some kind of breakdown and stint in a mental hospital, comes to house sit (crash at) his banker brother’s place in L.A. while the family’s on a business vacation to Vietnam. His plan is to “do nothing,” but he’s a huge fucking baby so he starts getting the family’s nice assistant Florence (Greta Gerwig, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) to shop for him, have a relationship with the dog for him, etc. Through horrendously awkward maneuvers he gets sloppily into her pants and makes things weird. Then he starts being a dick until she doesn’t want to see him again, but the dog gets sick and he doesn’t have a car so she has to bring him to the vet, etc. Romance does not ensue, just awkwardness.

mp_greenbergThis is awkwardness porn – uncomfortable like ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ but with very few laughs. The DVD cover, of course, has bright colors and cutesy chalkboard font with out of context quotes claiming it’s an “extremely entertaining” movie that “makes us feel” great.

This is a Noah Baumbach joint, so it’s very detailed and observant about all the ways Greenberg can be petty, arrogant and self absorbed. Unlike in Baumbach’s last one, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, there are at least some characters who aren’t assholes. Gerwig plays a more naturalistic version of a Zoe Deschanel type eccentric sweetheart. She’s kind of a space cadet but her worst crime is being forgiving of and wanting to spend time with this insufferable dickhead Greenberg. Same goes for Rhys Ifans as the overly charitable, screwed over friend and former bandmate who in my opinion puts up with too much of Greenberg’s bullshit. Greenberg insults this guy’s wife, endangers his hard-earned sobriety and doesn’t listen when he talks about things that are important to him, like his son. You’d think these nice characters might be some much needed sunshine on a rainy day, but instead it’s just depressing to see them get sucked into this miserable prick’s blackhole of negativity. They don’t deserve it.

I believe GREENBERG is the human GARFIELD. Garfield sits around calling everybody else stupid and being in love with his own thought balloons, so does Greenberg. Garfield gets completely unearned love and loyalty from his hapless owner, Greenberg from his drummer. Garfield mooches off his owner’s home and food without even performing his one expected duty of cathing a mouse, Greenberg stays at his brother’s house, eats his food and uses his assistant but doesn’t even finish building the lousy dog house he promised. Garfield is jealous of the cute kitten Nermal getting all the attention, Greenberg is jealous of his friends’ kids taking their attention away from him. Garfield binges on lasagna, Greenberg on coke. Garfield acts like he should get a congressional medal of honor for getting off his ass to try to save the dog from the trouble he himself caused, Greenberg does it because he makes a half-assed effort to care for the dog he’s supposed to be responsible for anyway and who it seemed like might’ve just gotten sick because Greenberg left him laying out in the sun with no water or food.

The only differences are 1. Greenberg is not orange or fat 2. He doesn’t specifically hate Mondays, just work, and 3. We know more of his backstory. The guy is obsesed with his relationships in the ’90s. One of the most effectively uncomfortable scenes is when Jennifer Jason Leigh, as his many-years-ago-now-is-grown-up-and-has-a-bunch-of-kids ex-girlfriend, agrees against all better judgment to go to lunch with him. He makes a big production of apologizing to her for some small thing he said to her like 15 years ago or something. Even though she doesn’t remember it or care he keeps talking about it. As the Jacksons once said, it’s torture. It’s obvious that he isn’t even sincere about apologizing, it’s just yet another bullshit way for him to draw attention to himself, trying to be a sensitive guy. Later he makes an even more painful fake apology to Florence which sounds phony and forced, then turns into fingerpointing, and he doesn’t even back down when called on his bullshit.

Greenberg when he was younger
Greenberg when he was younger

Just like Garfield I want to punch this guy in the face but I feel like the movie wants me to put him on a t-shirt or at least suction cup him to the rear window of a mini-van. But I don’t know. Maybe we can learn more about Garfield by studying Greenberg. Maybe Garfield also needs to get beyond things that happened to him when he was young and showed promise. But if Greenberg is any indication he’s just gonna stay fat and bitter his whole life anyway so I’m not sure it’s worth spending the time to understand him.

Most people I know who saw GREENBERG loved it. I have to agree that it’s interesting and well made. Great casting and acting all around, observant and uniquely Baumbachian. It really wasn’t until the end that I knew for sure I didn’t like it. You watch these innocent people get shit on by this human Garfield, this reverse Focker who instead of absorbing humiliation just spits it out at everyone around him, and for what? At the end of the day all I was left with was “Yep, there was a real fucking asshole right there.” It even made me feel sorry for his rich brother having to put up with his shit from the other side of the planet.

Baumbach is also known for co-writing movies with Wesley Anderson, but they seem like opposites to me. Anderson seems like he loves everybody, Baumbach seems like he hates everybody. Until  the one with the fantastic foxes my favorite Anderson was ROYAL TENENBAUMS. In that movie Gene Hackman is a total asshole, but you love him and believe he’s trying to do better and when he fails you can usually get a good laugh out of it. If Baumbach himself is Garfield I guess Anderson is Ziggy. Anderson’s movies are about “assholes are people too.” Baumbach’s are just about “people are assholes.”


This entry was posted on Sunday, July 18th, 2010 at 2:52 am and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

121 Responses to “Greenberg”

  1. Splendid deconstruction / analysis of Ziggy vs. Garfield, Vern.

  2. i saw two movies this week. one was greenberg, the other was expendables. while completely enjoying greenberg, i was disappointed by the expendables. could be my expectations tho.
    anyway, just wanted to let you guys know, that greenberg is a nice indie flick and expendables not as good as everybody hoped it would (except of the grand finale, which acually is pretty neat).

  3. After Margot at the Wedding I don’t think I have it in me to see this one. I liked Squid and the Whale and all but Margot made me cringe worse than Saw, Hostel, etc.

    Awkwardness porn > Torture porn

  4. 4raser: I agree. Torture porn is all “You know what would suck?” but awkwardness porn is all “You know what DOES suck?” Being able to relate having an uncomfortable conversation makes it much harder to sit through than a scene where some guy gets his fingers chopped off, which I have little to no experience with.

    I liked SQUID AND THE WHALE, though, despite the blatant false advertising. The Jeff Daniels character was based on an old professor of mine. He seemed cool to me, but I could see how he could be an asshole once you got a tennis racket in his hand.

  5. I like Baumbach’s movies. He seems to believe that some people are just assholes, with no redeeming qualities. He still manages to make these people interesting characters (unlike Garfield) and he brings good performances out of actors playing against type. I haven’t seen Greenberg yet but in his previous films I didn’t feel like I was expected to like these characters.
    I agree with Vern that Anderson is the opposite but some people hate him for that so you can’t win it seems. Baumbach has his own world view and sticks by it.

    Some people are just assholes. I endorse this message.

  6. I didn’t see MARGOT AT THE WEDDING, but didn’t RACHEL’S GETTING MARRIED come out around the same time? And like Ben Stiller here, Anne Hathaway’s character is loathsomely self-centered for most of the film, but in MARRIED, she manages to generate a peculiar sympathy… I’d recommend it, actually, it’s pretty good.

  7. Vern, get your rear in gear and see Inception! it’s excellent

  8. Actually we know a fair bit about Garfield’s backstory from the TV specials and tie in books GARFIELD ON THE TOWN (co-written by Lorenzo Music!) and GARFIELD: HIS 9 LIVES. He was born in an Italian kitchen; that’s why he likes lasagna so much!

    I’m gonna comed out of the ThenFuckYou,Jack closet and admit I was a big Garfield fan when I was a kid, and I still have a huge soft spot for 80s Garfield (modern Garfield does suck though). I know watching the crappy film version was your own personal Vietnam Vern but I’m afraid I never had a chance; there’s even a photo of me at about six months wearing Garfield mittens for Christ’s sake.

    But I’d have thought it was fairly obvious Anderson wasn’t ZIGGY but PEANUTS (although honestly I’m only vaguely aware of what ZIGGY is). I’ve heard a couple of people describe the characters in THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS as grown up versions of the PEANUTS cast and I can sort of see it. Certainly watching A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN these days feels more like watching an Indie comedy ala Anderson than a kid’s film. I was only so-so on FANTASTIC MR. FOX because I didn’t think Anderson’s tone and style really suited a Roald Dahl story, but if another PEANUTS animated film were ever made I think he’d be a prefect choice to direct. It probably wont happen though, because of stipulations in Schultz’s will or whatever which prevents them from doing very much with the characters on screen. Which is great because otherwise we’d be on the third crappy/disturbing live action PEANUTS movie by now. I can see the trailer now; semi-realistic CGI Snoopy is surfing, he farts and gets swamped by a huge wave.

  9. PacmanFever: If I recall correctly, GARFIELD: HIS NINE LIVES ends with him dying in his final life, then when he passes on, he has the balls to tell God that he’s only just ended his first life, so he gets eight more. WHAT A FUCKING ASSHOLE!
    Anyway, since this talkback is bringing up Wes Anderson and awkward porn indie movies, and we’ve had the video game movie reviews lately, here’s a brilliant spoof trailer for GOD OF WAR if it was an indie flick:

  10. Yep, absolutely true. Shockingly blasphemous for a comedy franchise which has always been at pains to avoid offending or excluding anyone (because then they might not buy the teddies)

  11. I haven’t seen this one, but I think Vern’s assessment of the different sensibilities is spot on. This one looks kinda like it took itself to seriously. There is this entire mini-genre of films with a common signature: cold, urban, emo, neurotic, self-absorbed, existential brokenness and loneliness. Kind of like a neo-Woody Allen sensibility but not as funny and a lot more self-serious. Here, I’m thinking of a lot of the work by Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, this guy Baumbach (Squid and the Whale, too). Some of that same signature is there to a lesser extent in the Anderson films and Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Big difference in the Wes Anderson films is there’s still a good bit of warmth, tenderness, and heart, while the more hardcore emo-existential films just seem smug and bitter. Like Vern said, Royal Tennenbaums has heart and a message of hope without white-washing the brokenness in our lives…I like to call it “post-cynical.” I think Owen Wilson may be a a big part of the why the Anderson films have that tenderness and playfulness to them, but that would just be me guessing.

  12. ***”I believe GREENBERG is the human GARFIELD. Garfield sits around calling everybody else stupid and being in love with his own thought balloons”***

    At this point, I heartily lold.
    The rest of the comparison is rich, but you could have just stopped right here for comedy gold.

    The concept of awkwardness porn is intriguing. I hear some filmmakers/writers referred to as “quirkomedians,” and I wonder if they realize that I consider that a negative label. The designation “awkwardness porn” leaves little doubt as to the connotation.

    I recently rewatched Rushmore for the first time, having last & first seen it on video back in ’99, and it’s still Wes Anderson’s only good film. It’s a quirky, awkward film with asshole characters, but it’s somehow fun & funny. Successful comedy walks such a fine line when assholes are involved, and I guess an even finer line exists in asshole-centric drama.

  13. Who really was the asshole in Rushmore? I don’t think there was one character who wasn’t at least 70% sympathetic the whole way through. It was starting with Steve Zissou that I thought it started to veer more into that cold, staid, self-serious territory. I didn’t even finish Darjeeling…have yet to see Fox. I though Bottle Rocket through Tennenbaums were all top notch.

  14. I also kind of felt w/ this one like it’s Ben Stiller trying to prove he can do the Jim Carrey thing and go back and forth. I think he’s perfectly competent as a dramatic actor, but whenever he’s tried to carry a more dramatic film (like Permanent Midnight) it kind of feels like it’s a contrived career move. Not that I can really know his motives, it just seems a little off to see him trying to carry this type of film.

  15. Duh, you’re right, Anderson is way more Charlie Brown. He does get depressed and feel shit upon but ultimately he’s nice and caring. I know he was probly influenced by those too because he uses Peanuts music in at least one of his movies. Also I’ve seen pictures of Anderson and unlike Ziggy he wears pants. It’s one of his trademarks.

    Still, I prefer bringing up Ziggy all the time. He’s my go-to comics strip character until the assholes make a movie out of him. (I’m still rooting for Vin Diesel to get the role though.)

  16. There was a recent Ziggy storyline where he finally got his pants back from the cleaners. Future historians will remember that the day ZIGGY went meta is the day when existence collapsed on itself.

  17. Hey guys, I’m going to pass on this movie. Sounds lame.

  18. Boy, after my “Hero” rant I’m feeling less than charitable right now, so I’ll summarize my thoughts on this one in two sentences:

    1) I haven’t liked anything Ben Stiller starred in except “There’s Something about Mary”. I could write a small essay on what’s wrong with “Meet the Parents”, but I’ve been doing enough trashing of sacred cows lately.
    2) “Squid vs Whale” is pretty near the top of my “to see” list.

    I suspect how I react to “Squid” will determine whether or not I bother to look this one up.

    Disagree on Garfield though. He’s a lazy self-absorbed cynical observer who spends all of his time sitting around and eating pizza. He might be the most genuinely relatable character in TV history.

  19. I think Zoolander is fantastic. I thought Meet the Parents was good: I will take a well-executed mainstream, formulaic comedy over caustic, prententious emo trash anyday. Tropic Thunder (and RDJ’s performance) was profoundly overrated. Ben Stiller was good in Tennenbaums’ but even there I couldn’t shake the feeling he was trying to earn his “hey, he can really act” stripes. I’m probably not being fair to him. Even so, I felt that Tennenbaums was good, and Stiller’s performance was good, too, and it worked in the film.

  20. Movies like this communicate what it’s like to be an anxious person. Greenberg has OCD and it clouds his judgement. Yeah we cringe when he fucks up but we still want to see him find happiness. This was like Baumbach’s version of Punch Drunk Love, another Comedian in a serious role OCD love story. They exaggerate the bad behavior in these movies to put them in anxious situations so we can identify with them sharing their pain. I agree about the advertising but the studios don’t know what the fuck to do with material like this. The worst is the package for The Good Girl. Maybe they forced Baumbach and P.T. Anderson to hire mainstream comedians for their leads knowing that was the only way the masses would rent the dvd.

  21. I thought Punch-Drunk Love was great. That was such a great film, and again, he really had heart. When he finally goes after the dudes with crowbar…I was pumped. Seymour Hoffman was great as always (I forgive him for Synechdoce, NY).

    Also, and I don’t know what it is, but my sense of this was that PT Anderson sought out Sandler for PDL. What I like about Sandler is that he is real. He makes the kind of movies he wants to make. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. He gives his buddies jobs. I never get the sense that he makes a movie to rack up more money, but rather just to a movie and hang out w/ his buds. And when he does something more dramatic, I think he knocks it out of the park, and he manages to do all this while staying humble and keeping it perspective and not trying to prove anything to anyone. Still, Sandler hasn’t made a really good zany comedy since Wedding Singer, and that is a real shame.

    With Stiller, I feel like he’s making his career moves strategically to win over the hearts of moviegoers and critics, like he wants to be America’s Sweetheart. If he wanted, he could definitely get some supporting dramatic roles or do more crazy stuff like Zoolander, but I think his ego and his ambitions are driving his career choices, and that’s why he hasn’t done anything I really care about since…probably Tennenbaums, and again, even with that, there was the sense that he was trying to prove something. Zoolander and Ben Stiller Show are great exceptions to this and show a Stiller that really can be creative and zany when he’s not thinking like a Hollywood agent.

  22. Paul, you are not alone in that hatred for “Meet the Parents”, so I would love to see a long essay on what sucks about it. I hate, hate, hate that movie.

    I really enjoy almost all of Ben Stiller’s other movies, though, with big exceptions being “Parents”, “Starskey and Hutch”, and “The Heartbreak Kid”. Yes, I even liked his turn as a “bad-ass” bit part in the movie “Stella.”

  23. I also don’t think I would want to watch this movie for fear of wanting to kick my TV in. This character sounds like one or two of my relatives that I can’t stand.

  24. Is MEET THE PARENTS really a sacred cow in 2010? Granted, I’m biased as I too hated it, and sure, FOCKERS made about a zillion dollars and there’s another one on the way but I got the impression it was kind of the comedy equivilent of INDEPENDENCE DAY or whatever (or maybe the 00s equivilent of something like MRS. DOUBTFIRE) and people generally either don’t really give a shit about it anymore, never did give a shit about it in the first place, or pretend they never gave a shit about it… sort of like Garfield and Ziggy (and maybe Dilbert).

  25. My wife and I were walking by a church near my house yesterday. At that moment a bride and groom exited into a group of family and well wishers. As we were clapping I spied a dapper black gentleman throwing rice. Could it be? Yes it was. Keith Mutherfucking David!
    After the bride and groom left I introduced myself and my wife and expressed my love of his roles and films. He was just like you’d expect, firm handshake, looked you in the eye, and had a great laugh. We talked, I took a couple of photos, and then I invited him to my bar-b-que. No luck.
    He then asked for directions to the lake, and after I told he said “goodbye” and bolted across a busy street, and the sound of tires screeching and horns blaring filled the air–Nice exit.

  26. Vern, can you PLEASE review Fantastic Mr. Fox???

  27. I don’t think Meet the Parents is a sacred cow. It’s a decent comedy that I think holds up fairly well. It’s not like it’s one of 10 best comedies of all time or anything, and I don’t think anyone’s ever implied that. I think it was post-9/11 comfort food, too. That’s part of why it was so huge.

  28. I didn’t know a single other person who disliked “Meet the parents” (until now).

    I haven’t seen “Zoolander” and don’t plan to. “Tropic Thunder” is on my “to see” list.

    I didn’t even remember Stiller was IN “Punch drunk love”.

  29. That’s because he was playing the role of Guy Who Isn’t In Punch Drunk Love.

  30. I’m telling you, Zoolander is worth a rental.

    “You’re dead to me, kid. You’re more dead to me than your dead mother.”
    -Coal Miner Jon Voigt to son Derek Zoolander

  31. “That’s because he was playing the role of Guy Who Isn’t In Punch Drunk Love.”

    That was Don Johnson bro.

    I’ll throw my hat in the Meet The Parents is over-rated trash hat too. Stiller still gets a life-time pass for me for Tropic Thunder though.

  32. Have any of you seen Invention of Lying? Really funny, good, unconventional comedy. As a theist, I kind of chafe at Ricky Gervais’s particularly condescending brand of atheism (is there any other kind?), but it is a very funny and strangely poignant movie. I think Gervais could pick up the Woody Allen mantle (which is why it’s kind of weird that this movie uses the standard Woody Allen credits font…what gives w/ that?). Also, Jennifer Garner is once again very solid; between Invention of Lying and Juno, I think she’s pretty underrated, and I’d like to see her get more good roles (on chick flick night I actually had to sit through 30 minutes of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past…grim stuff).

  33. I felt like Tropic Thunder was the XXX of comedies. Like, months before the thing comes out the whole world is telling me how this is going to be the hit of the summer and how amazing and un-PC Robert Downey, Jr. is, etc. And I just didn’t see the funny. Doesn’t hold a candle to Zoolander. All that star power, and I just don’t see the bang for the buck. The whole Tom Cruise thing: Great, Tom Cruise has a sense of humor, and he’s a fast-talking potty mouth Hollywood cliche. Ha. RDJ is so method that he darkened his skin. Hilarious. Jack Black is pretty bland in this. This was the Ocean’s 11 of self-indulgent, overrated, all-star cast films.

    I did like the bit w/ him trying to reassure his dying buddy w/ all the blood and guts. I like the Lance Bass joke. And the fatsuit character w/ the ‘F on the First Date’ shirt was amusing. Other than that, surprisingly few laughs.

  34. I like TROPIC THUNDER a lot. It partially redeemed Ben Stiller for me.

  35. It’s a free country. I have really enjoyed all the major actors in it at one point or another. Maybe it will grow on me if I give it another shot. Maybe it was a case of too much hype or something. I swear that I’m not being a hater just for the fun of it.

    Invention of Lying is worth a watch, though. What else, lately? Extract was really good. There was a DTV/limited release Luke Wilson one called Tenure that I also think is worth checking out.

  36. I didn’t care for Meet the Parents either. It struck me as a movie that went through way too much audience testing. (Anything actually funny in it was probably hammered out during that process).

    Tropic Thunder – I sat there watching that, thinking it was a savvy satire of the entertainment industrial complex (and, by extension, America itself) but…unfortunately, I didn’t laugh…at all. It’s a smart movie that I think is very prescient about our current condition (so is the much better Burn After Reading) but, it just wasn’t funny to me.

  37. I saw this movie at a free preview screening and, considering my screenwriting background, immediately noticed something odd about it. My theory coming out of it was that Baumbach intentionally went through the checklist of the things you’re “supposed to do” in a screenplay and did the opposite. It seemed like the whole movie was a gambit to troll Robert McKee or something. Some examples of what I mean:

    – Typically you want your audience to empathize with your hero. In GREENBERG the protagonist is an unlikeable dolt. He’s the most unlikeable person in the movie, and remains so for its entire running time. While I saw shades of myself in Greenberg I found it hard to empathize or sympathize with him.
    – Typically your protagonist should have a tangible, physical goal that can be easily detected by the audience. It’s not mandatory for the character to achieve the goal but the audience should understand the stakes and know if the character has achieved it or not by the end. ie. Sheriff Brody wants to catch Jaws. He does. The end. In GREENBERG the goal is “to do nothing”. Greenberg still has to do something though, so I suppose his inarguable physical goals are: build a dog house, take care of his brother’s house, and write some complaint letters. He only really seems to accomplish the last one.
    – Typically your protagonist should also have an inner need, something that is essentially ruining their life and requiring them to change in order to achieve emotional fulfillment. This should not be immediately obvious, but somewhere near the end it should dawn on the audience. In GREENBERG the protagonist’s inner desires are vague and constantly shifting. It’s the type of thing that you can only really define with abstracts: “happiness”, “contentment”, “self worth”, “balance”. Greenberg doesn’t really undergo any sort of meaningful change by the end of the movie, he’s the same unlikeable dolt all the way through.
    – Typically your protagonist should be forced to confront their need by a strong antagonist. In GREENBERG there is no antagonist in the strict sense of the term. As such the antagonist is his romantic interest, by default. But the antagonist is much more sympathetic/empathetic than the protagonist. And she presents him with very little conflict, at least relative to the obscene levels of unlikeable doltery he subjects her to. She gives in to him right away and from then on he can’t seem to screw up what they have going if he tries. And he certainly tries.
    – And typically, in a more general sense, every scene in the story should be crucial to our understanding of the character’s journey. In GREENBERG the plot is aimless and haphazard. It starts with the love interest driving around, walking the dog and doing errands for the family who owns the house the protagonist stays in. Subplots arise and don’t resolve themselves. Other subplots resolve themselves without climaxes, just fizzling out into nothing. Backstories are mentioned and dismissed.

    Now before I’m stoned in the village square for pedantry, I think a lot of these rules (or principles) are too stiff for practical application with every story. In fact they flat out don’t work when applied to some of my favorite films. They’re helpful to understand as a writer, but using them to the letter often results in formulaic treacle. I’m not pointing them out above to highlight the deficiencies in GREENBERG, which I kinda liked, but merely to speculate on what Baumbach’s creative strategy might have been here. It reminds me of that scene in ADAPTATION where Cage as Kaufman stands up at the Robert McKee seminar and asks for advice on a screenplay in which, true to life, “nothing much happens”.

    Just my take on it anyway.

  38. W.S. – thanks, it is a relief to have someone validate my view of Tropic Thunder. Even if we are a minority. After so much hype both before and after the film’s release, I felt like Mugatu in Zoolander: everyone seems to love it, and “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills, or something!!”

    For such an amazing cast, you should be peeing your pants funny the whole time, and instead I felt very detached and, sadly, bored.

    Meet the Parents probably was overly test screened and “shaped” in that manner, but I actually feel like it works. I think it’s hip to be down on test audiences, but I think if you are starting out with a big budget, formulaic kind of film, what’s so bad with them going to the trouble of seeing what works and what doesn’t before they roll it out to the masses. I don’t think that’s how classic films are made, and I don’t think it’s how any true visionary would work, but Meet the Parents is a big budget, big start comedy vehicle.

  39. I’m a white guy from the suburbs of Chicago, of coarse I find Meet the Parents funny.

  40. Although Baumbach is a successful filmmaker and Ben Stiller is the star it does not mean the goal wasn’t to make an art film. I certainly did not go in expecting a lighthearted comedy. The Syd Field or Robert McKee type structure does not apply to art films. They have created a set of guidelines to follow for people who would like to try to sell a mainstream script to Hollywood. What makes a film an art film in my opinion is challenging these very conventions and cliches.

    Yet to me this film had a clear narrative thread. Although he states his “goal is to do nothing” he is taking time off after release from the mental hospital. His goal is to recover from his nervous breakdown and socially adapt to society. He must overcome his social awkwardness and anxiety that extends to outward anger and “asshole” behaviors. I’ll break this up into three parts:

    1. Learn to be a responsible adult:
    Take care of an animal against obstacles of chance such as it becoming very sick, fed by teenagers etc. Take care of house despite a party being thrown and a pool overflowing from rain etc. He is genuinely trying and all these things happen outside of his control. Yes the dog house bit is meant to be kind of pathetic yet he is fixing things up like the door.

    2. Maintain a friendship:
    Although his old Drummer is being civil there is underlying hatred as he blames Greenberg for breaking up the band. Greenberg is making all the effort here, suggesting things to do like watch movies, play music together etc. He confronts a fair amount of resistance despite the drummer’s surface laissez faire attitude. They only go out for dinner because it’s his birthday. An obstacle outside of Greenberg’s control is he must ask him for rides making this all more difficult. When he finally tries to resolve the grudge over the band breakup he makes a sympathetic case and you can see he has been tortured by this so much so he probably became reclusive giving up on human relationships. The drummer’s arguments all are connected to Greenberg’s reclusive turn and concern what he’s missed and how thing’s have changed in the years past.

    3. Have a healthy romantic relationship:
    He first attempts with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character. She is not interested and is just being civil, humoring him. What we learn from their date is Greenberg had built their past relationship up to something much larger than it was or she’ll acknowledge. This is probably because Greenberg has had a very thin romantic life. The relationship he starts with the Nanny is difficult for him because she is young and he has preconceptions about what someone her age would be looking for exceeding his own self worth. She has behaved promiscuously and divulges the details to Greenberg. For an anxious man with OCD this is a trigger. When he goes down on her and she tells about her past partners he goes to the washroom worried about STD’s. He even draws attention to her cold sore. Moving ahead with her despite this awkwardness she again divulges details like this in a story of how she picked up a bunch of idiots at the bar and went home with them and showed her tits as “a joke”… This results in his big blowup.

    There is clear resolution and change for Greenberg by the end. In the climax with the culmination of all these obstacles he is ready to run away like he did after the breakups. Ready to take off to Australia he instead finally faces himself. This a clear change in Greenberg’s character. He has effectively gotten the dog back to health, and kept the house in order. Although his old friendships may be impossibly rekindled the resolution here is that Greenberg has confronted his past. He has communicated his guilt about breaking up the band, he has apologized to his old love interest for the way he acted. All that’s left is to try to make it work with the Nanny. He uses his carpentry skill to put up her picture frame. He wants to do the work and he knows now she’s comfortable with his anxiety.

  41. Really good analyses by Gwai Lo and Maxo. I think Vern is being a bit hard on Greenberg – I mean, comparing him to Garfield, that’s harsh man. Would Garfield hang a picture for you?

    I love how effortlessly this movie is put together. It never pushes very hard for your attention, but it’s always entertaining.

  42. I liked Meet The Parents when I saw, but it’s been a long time, still I don’t see how someone could outright hate that movie, that scene when Stiller hits the volleyball and breaks that girl’s nose was hilarious

    I loved Tropic Thunder too, it felt like a pretty dead on satire of Hollywood (The FATTIES FART TWO being a prime example)

  43. while we’re on the subject of Indie flicks, what do you fellow Verninites think of the infamous Juno?

    it’s been about two years since I’ve seen and well I have mixed thoughts

    while I think the massive amount of hate it got is silly, I can see where they were coming from, the movie early on does have a “so indie it HURTS” feel, as it goes on it gets better

    I think at the end of the day it’s movie that’s not worthy of neither the extreme hate nor the extreme praise it got

  44. *as it goes on it gets better though

  45. This is why I don’t like reviewing comedies. To me Tropic Thunder is easily one of the funniest movies of the last several years. But how do you make an argument for something being funny? I mean, if I gotta explain the cultural context of a rapper character being named “Alpa Cino” I’ll do it, but it’s not gonna convince you it’s hilarious, even though it is.

  46. Griff – well I loved it. Posted something on it recently in the “Juno” thread actually. Easily one of the best movies of the year it came out, if not the best. Like I said in thread, whether or not you agree depends entirely on whether you can accept its “quirkiness”. If you have no problems with that then its other qualities, to me, are all strengths. If you find it off-putting then you’re not going to like this movie regardless of how good it is otherwise.

  47. How can you not find Tropic Thunder hilarious?  Admittedly, I only saw it once in the theatre, so I’m probly guilty of avoiding another viewing since then in order to avoid any letdown, but that shit was funny for virtually its entire runtime.  Very few comedies manage that many levels & types of humor — parody, gross-out, witty, profane, goofy, meta, retard, et cetera — for that amount of time.  

    I loved the hell out of seeing what Ben Stiller could do with such a budget.  

    Plus, for the feat of provoking Mouth’s unending laughter, Tropic Thunder provided the only competition that year to Punisher: War Zone’s parkour-sidewinder scene.  Specifically, I am referring to Nick Nolte’s early (beach?) scene with the director, who sees Nolte camping out.  When he reminds the grizzled veteran that the producers have a hotel where he can stay, Nolte growls and responds, “Beds give me nightmares.”  

  48. I liked TROPIC THUNDER a lot and agree it’s one of the funniest films of the last [x], but I was interested by one review that noted that Stiller and Black were playing actors who are bigger hacks than they are to make themselves look better in the process.

    As for how anyone could hate MEET THE PARENTS… well maybe “hate” is too strong a word in my case, but I don’t find the idea of Stiller hitting some woman in the face with a ball particularly riotous. I think embarassment humour can often be monotonous, particularly when the one being embarassed is a rather dull, passive wimp. I love CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, but I think that’s because Larry is active and the people on the receiving end are often worse than him. I guess I like “awkwardness porn” but not “embarassment porn”. I’m not bothered by PARENTS being focus grouped or test audienced or whatever. I’m fairly cool with that stuff. When it comes down to it I’m a pretty mainstream guy. I just don’t think MEET THE PARENTS is funny.

  49. I think maybe my problem with Tropic Thunder is that I took it too seriously. There are parts of that where, to me, it almost feels like a comedy version of Apocalypto or Fellini Satyricon – like they set out to create a portrait of a culture that’s bloated, amoral, insane and about to implode. Even the final scene with Les Grosman (spoiler, but not really): on one level that’s Tom Cruise acting silly (which is how the people I saw the movie with seemed to take it), on another level it’s about the celebratory triumph of greed and evil.

    This is all great, but the subtext of the movie sort of overwhelmed my instinct to laugh. I don’t think it’s a bad movie (just one that I appreciate more than I actually enjoy, if that makes sense).

  50. Also, I’m not saying that comedies should be about nothing. I think a lot of great, really funny comedies, on a sub-textual level, are about things that are serious and, in some cases, dark and sinister. For example, Risky Business is an awesome movie, but, it’s also about a guy losing his soul. Superbad is fucking hilarious but – at least how I read it – it’s about a group of kids trying to live according to a kind of depersonalized culturally-mandated debauchery, and, by the end, being completely horrified by it.

    But, for some reason, Tropic Thunder hit me in the wrong way. It’s the same thing with that scene at the end of Animal House with “Senator and Mrs. Blutarsky” where it becomes less and less funny in context of the presidency of George W. Bush.

    Meet the Parents – my problem wasn’t so much that it was audience tested, but that it felt sort of over-audience tested, like the film-makers put it through that process so much that they lost all faith their own instincts…And I really fucking hated Teri Polo. I found her unpleasant-looking and creepy; what’s with that weird, wildly inappropriate pop psychology bullshit she’s using on those kids at the beginning of the movie? “Repress your problems, children. Repress!”

  51. Jareth Cutestory

    July 19th, 2010 at 8:19 am

    As far as I’m concerned, it’ll take a real special film to knock off the reigning champ of the People Are Assholes category, Mike Leigh’s NAKED. You know you’re dealing with a prick (David Thewlis) when the rape scene that opens the movie is forgotten under a mountain of other humiliations by the half way mark of the film’s run time.

    Also, which film would be more painful for a fan of RAGING BULL to watch: de Niro tending to his cat in MEET THE PARENTS or de Niro crying on Billy Crystal’s couch in ANALYZE THIS? I haven’t seen any of those films, but one day I may find myself in a SAW-like situation where I have to choose.

    PacManFever: I’m sure at this point it’s been sufficiently mentioned all over the media, but Larry David surrounded himself with an extraordinary cast; David seems to understand that it requires a special quality in an actor to be able to repeatedly shout the phrase “you fat fuck” and make it fresh each time. Like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, there isn’t a weak link in that chain.

  52. What if they did a MEET THE PARENTS sequel where all the regular cast except De Niro are killed at the start, and it turns into a revenge action thriller with him using his CIA skills to hunt down those responsible? What would the title of that be?

  53. Jareth — ANALYZE THIS is waaaaay less painful. It’s no classic, but with Harold Ramis directing you know it’s going to have at least a certain level of charm and class (well, you did until the exact second YEAR ONE came out). It’s borderline watchable, and in point of fact so is the entirely unnecessary and unlooked for sequel. It at least allows De Niro a certain degree of dignity.

    BTW — I did go see SECRET IN THEIR EYES, as per your suggestion. My reaction is in the DRAGON TATTOO comments, if you missed it.

  54. Mr. S – Fun Fact, Martin Scorsese was supposed to direct ANALYZE THIS.

    Also, did you see INCEPTION yet?

  55. RRA — somewhere way in the back of my mind, I think I had heard that. Do you know if they planned to use the same script? I just can’t… really imagine what that would have looked like. KING OF COMEDY part II, I guess.

    As for INCEPTION, Yup, saw it last night. I liked it exactly up to the point of loving it, without ever quite crossing that line. The whole second half is one sublimely executed suspense scene, truly a masterpiece of communicating densely complex story in a way which is engrossing, beautiful, tense, and immenently comprehensible. Great filmmaking across the board, but unfortunately as much as I really really enjoyed the whole experience and respected it, I couldn’t quite love it because for a movie all about the subconscious and dreams, I’m not convinced Nolan has ever had an actual dream. There are tiny bits of surreality in the dreams, but nothing that has much to do with the subconscious (ie, the bending city and zero-g fight scene actually have surprisingly prosaic explainations). The dreams are all treated as very static and linear, there’s only the very slightest suggestion of surreality, metaphors, or dream-logic, and then only when it suits the plot.

    I realize that keeping dreams about equally “real” as “reality” is sort of necessary for the movie’s ambiguous ending, but although its true that dreams “feel” real while you’re in them, they don’t look or act anything like what Nolan depicts. I would have preferred a more surreal “real” world to keep the questions about what is actually real alive.

    For a film which is so much about dreams, the subconscious mind, and subjective reality, I don’t find its inability to convincingly depict and describe dreams just a missed opportunity, but a rather troubling flaw. It’s a fantastic fucking thriller, and a joy to watch, but I feel like it ultimately doesn’t say much about the ideas that it’s playing with. Nolan is just so damn literal, and this is a subject where portraying things so literally just doesn’t describe it very well. You want like a Gilliam or a Lynch or a Cronenberg for this stuff — Nolan’s obviously a master of the craft, but I just don’t know if his temperment is right to get at the heart of the stuff he’s thinking about in this one.

    If that seems like a lot of bitching about something so great, hell yeah it is. INCEPTION is definitely the best mainstream film I’ve seen in a long long time. But I have a special place in my heart for using the visual medium to communicate the altered reality of dreams, and this one just isn’t all that interested in doing that. Which is fine I guess, but considering its also sort of at the heart of the film, I can’t help but imagine how classic it would have been if it had succeeded more on that front.

  56. Mr. S, I’m sure I won’t be the first to point this out, but we don’t see any “real” dreams in the movie. These are all fabricated dreams created to trick people into believing that they’re reality. The lack of surrealism is absolutely necessary to the plot of the movie.

  57. I was about to say the same thing Mr. Majestyk, the dreams are not supposed to be weird Salvador Dali type stuff

  58. Mr M — yeah, I hear ya on that, but I guess to me the bottom line is it’s not like it’s a virtual reality program — its inside someone’s head at a subconscious level. No one’s subconscious looks like that. And we do see at least one real dream — Ellen Page goes into Leo’s real dream to see what he’s thinking about, and its pretty much the same style as the “constructed” dreams, which leads me to believe that their intended to both reflect the same phenomenon. And for all the talk about infiltrating the subconsious, the movie is entirely cerebral in its approach to how this works and feels. The cool thing about dreams is that they FEEL real even though the conscious mind would know otherwise (so I’d argue that this is why surrealism would have worked just fine — after all, even the “constructed” worlds aren’t entirely realistic) . The subconscious mind is all Id — nonlinear, jumbled intense emotions and metaphoric weirdness.
    The way they approach “Incepting” Fisher completely ignores the subconsious and just sort of tricks him about what his father wanted with some smoke and mirrors to change his mind. Hell, they could have staged an elaborate hoax in the real world using the same techniques, and it wouldnt have been as expensive or dangerous, in al liklihood.

    Again, not hating on the movie, just saying that it talks a good game about the subconsious and dreaming, but then is completely disinterested in actually exploring those things. The most interesting idea in the film is about the subjective passage of time in dreams, and that’s used to work up a really phenomenal suspense peice but ultimately a lot of the most interesting things go unexplored. I’m usually never one to complain about what’s NOT in a film (“what? we never get to see Anakin trained? We only see the end of the Clone War? This movie sucks!”) but it seems to me that a lot of the film’s interest hinges on exploring the effects of the subconsious mind — and it just doesn’t seem to me to very accurately represent the subconsious in its images or in its narrative. Its not just the construction of the dream, its sort of the whole deal.

  59. Mr. S: Leo’s dream wasn’t real either. He said that he needed to use the machine to dream, because otherwise he doesn’t dream at all.

  60. Oh, I interpreted that to mean that it was indeed “his” dream, just artificially induced. Maybe not.

  61. I think we’re supposed to gather that this is an entirely different kind of dreaming, and when you do it for too long, you can’t attain your natural dream state anymore. In any case, I gathered that the dream Ellen Page barges into is the dream Leo constructed to store the memory of his wife in. It’s as fabricated as any other dream in the movie.

  62. Hrm, you may have a point there, my good fellow. It’s a little light on the details, but I sort of assumed the machine was more of a chemical device to induce sleep and allow people to share in the same dream experience, but now that you bring that up I think you’re right that it’s kind of a dream-in-a-box. Whatever that would actually mean.

    But I still think my point reamins valid that fundamentally it’s a film which talks a lot about the subconscious and dreams while actually not having much to do with the subconsious or dreams. I hear you guys saying, “no, those aren’t dreams, more like a virtual reality program that on some slight level connects to the subconsious mind but mostly just for suspension of disbelief in-dream.” (please correct me if I’m misinterpreting). I guess that makes it work better, but somewhat less interesting than something which actually was interested in exploring the way dreams connect to our subconscious mind.

    While watching the film, I really believed Nolan intended this to be interpreted more or less like an actual dream, in which case it doesn’t really work. If you are correct, that was never really his intent and if it had been, he would have shot dreams that look and feel like, you know, actual dreams. Could be. Given Nolan’s previous output, I’m not all that convinced that he has much of a feel for visually depicting heightened emotional states (the closest comparison I can make is his depiction of the results of “fear gas” in BEGINS –easily among the least effective or evocative aspects of that film). But probably I’ll watch the film again and see if it works better when you interpret “dreams” and “subconsious” to mean “virtual reality” and “in-brain connection to said virtual reality.” But in interpreting it that way, it just seems much less interesting and original to me… basically just MATRIX THEIVES! THE MOVIE! Not to throw a Catch-22 on it, but basically it seems to me that it’s either a movie which is very much about the subconsious, in which case it failed to really work for me, or a movie which isn’t very much about the subconscious, in which case it worked but is less interesting to me. Your move, Nolan. Or, its about something else I haven’t thought of or it’s just an awesome thriller and shut up old man we’re tired of hearing about the 60s nobody asked you anyway (well, RRA did, blame him).

    Its not really my style to be a bitching fanboy, especially about a movie I really liked. I just felt like this one seemed to think it was making a slightly different point than I thought it ultimately DID make. But possibly I didn’t understand exactly what we were watching quite well enough and simply got the wrong idea. Anyway, still liked it a whole heck of a lot, if they made 100 movies like it a year it would be too few. I just can’t shake a twinge of regret over how hard I’d have fallen for it had it really worked on the level I wanted it to.

    “I liked it a heck of a lot!!… Nolan’s best since THE DARK KNIGHT!” – Mr. Subtlety

  63. I hear where you’re coming from, Mr. S. I think Nolan can be an excessively literal-minded director. His whole deal is to make tangible the intangible, whether it’s amnesia, insomnia, magic, chaos, or dreams. This has a lot to do with why I never took to his interpretation of Batman; he took all of the gothic out of Gotham with his crisp procedural stylings and clockwork plotting. Batman is a creature of shadows, but Nolan shined a spotlight on him and made him small and literal. He seems to have done the same thing with dreams, but this time the film is just so damned exciting and the story so intricate and ever-evolving that I loved it for what it was and didn’t mind all that it was not. Just seeing all the parts click into place (at a Roger Moore-style ski fortress, no less) was the most legitimate movie thrill I’d had in a long while.

    You know, it’s funny. I used to think Batman was wasted on Nolan. Now I kind of think Nolan is wasted on Batman.

  64. Personally, I loved Inception. I don’t think masterpiece is an exaggeration. It’s been out for 4 days. I’m pretty positive Vern has seen it by now, as he likes movies a little bit. Review please!

  65. You know he’s gonna review it. He’s probably just working extra hard on his review to make sure that excellence has been properly striven for. Perhaps it will be a review inside a review inside a review. Maybe at the end we won’t even know if the review is really over or if we’re all just stuck inside a review Vern concocted to implant in us the idea that we all need to buy more mousepads and baby onesies from his online store. Our minds will be blown and our balls will be through the wall. Won’t that be worth the wait?


    Mr. Subtlety – The ending means neither dream or not a dream. You can make arguments either way.

    DREAM – Kids dressed the same, not aged, and same motion. How did Caine happen to know to be at the airport at the time? Same house as the one in his dream, nothing changed at all. Certainly seems convenient oh one short phone call gets him off the hook, and from the anonymous evil giant corporations he works for/flees from.

    NOT A DREAM – Leo wears his wedding ring in the dreamworld, not in the real. He’s not wearing it in the ending. And that totem certainly looked like it was wobbly and gonna turn over, didn’t it? But we never see it turn, did we?

    Regardless, I don’t think whether situation matters. Can dreams become reality to one without knowing any better, and does it matter if it is?

    Here is my interpretation. If everyone is tripping over themselves in giving a LITERAL explaination, Nolan intended it as more a THEMATIC ending.

    That whole speech about “ideas” being a virus, repeated several times in the movie….can’t that be said for stories? Whether comics or movies or books, all stories begin as an idea within the author’s head. One that grew and matured and mutated until put down in pen. Or on film. They become “real,” or as real as complete nonsense can be to audiences. Look at folks who take stuff like TWILIGHT and STAR WARS rather very dearly seriously, more than some of us can fathom. Like that guy who turned his pad into the Enterprise bridge, or Tron Guy.

    And with INCEPTION, the “Inception” is Nolan the auteur himself. He’s embedded alot of him (and his previous filmography) into the film since this was his big alleged “dream” project for years and given the keys of the WB kingdom to fulfill this ego after DARK KNIGHT. Maybe pretentious, but fuck I enjoyed it. Its not like writign himself a role as the world savior like that M. Night Shymalan dude did .

    Consider these facts:

    (1) Leo’s character is named William Cobb, same name as the protagonist in Nolan’s directorial debut FOLLOWING.

    (2) Someone weeks back pointed out to me how Leo in the movie looks eeriely like Nolan, you know that slick back hair, posh wardrobe, GQ cover bullshit.

    (3) Like Leo’s character, Nolan himself has two kids.

    (4) What do you know, one of his own brood played one of Leo’s kids.

    (5) That whole snow mountain fortress sequence was an expensive love letter homage to the climax of Nolan’s favorite 007 movie, OF HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Hey if you’re given a blank check, why not self-indulge your inner fanboy?

    (6) He’s previously thematically dabbled with the consequences of memories for the hero’s journey before in MEMENTO. And PRESTIGE certainly went over the mechanics of the “trick” and needing sci-fi fantasy to pull a plot device off. Mirrors anybody? And INSOMNIA, about a protagonist trying to keep his “problem” hidden from his younger, inexperienced female partner who tries to help him but trusts him much more than she should.

    (7) Same action cinematography, similar production design from his BATMAN movies, if much less shakey cam thankfully.

    (8) Worked again with alot of the same guys (Caine, Murphy, Watanabe, Pfister, etc.)

    (9) I read a rumor that van in the movie was previously used in DARK KNIGHT, so who knows?

    This is alot of shit stretching shit out, but its fun to speculate. And I lay claim ownership to this Nerd Theory.

  67. Re: Dreams and what they look like

    My dreams used to be crazy and weird (like the time Swamp Thing was my guide through the jungle as we ziplined away from the Sleeping Beauty Dragon chasing us), but as I grew older (starting in high school) more and more of them mimiced reality quite closely and were pretty similar to the style of Inception. I certainly have had a very real dreams where I was a secret agent, talking with a strange woman or friend, or even seemingly lived an entire day, complete with class. While he could show the dreams to be more surreal, it also would have made it easier to distinguish dreams from reality (which is NOT what he wanted). I also feel like Nolan likes to use special effects only when neccesary and rely on the audience…hes old school in that sense. To my eye, he could have shot this film 40 years ago (thats the 1970s? Holy shit!) if he’d wanted. Only the folding city and the bridge were “mandatory CG”. But even they could have been done with a cut/mirrors/stopmotion without ruining a central part of the film.

  68. I’ve been debating whether or not to see Inception again in theaters or just wait for blu ray so I can watch it as many times as I want and really analyze it

  69. I highly recommend reading Devin Faraci’s article on INCEPTION. I promise he’s not in contrarian dick mode, and this is actually the most insightful piece I’ve read on the film so far:


  70. Jareth Cutestory

    July 19th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I guess I can see why people like INCEPTION, but I land firmly in the camp that see it as little more than OCEANS 11 with a sci-fi premise. I didn’t dislike the film exactly, but I fail to see what the big deal is.

    Random thoughts: Nolan has no style whatsoever, just a lot of technique, which admittedly is improving by leaps and bounds. The lack of style would be fine if he was as good with pacing and with actors as Johnathan Demme is, but he isn’t. In fact, INCEPTION is another film that suggests to me he doesn’t cast his films very well. But this time he got it half right.

    Di Caprio’s performance was pretty lightweight compared to his work in SHUTTER ISLAND.

    I read Faraci’s article and, frankly, so what? It doesn’t change a single thing if the whole film is a dream. It’s just as empty no matter what you choose to believe about the plot structure. As escapist fare it’s fine, but I think critics are bending over backwards to read meaning into a film with precious little of it to offer. In direct response to Faraci, I say: “Nolan gave DREAMSCAPE the budge it’s concept deserved. I think that in a couple of years this will become the accepted reading of the film.”

    Every time Juno was on the screen I thought I was watching BUGSY MALONE.

    The soundtrack was obnoxious. It’s not that the music was bad, but it was always playing, even in scenes where it didn’t fit, just churning away back there for fear the audience would nod off during the scenes of exposition. And those Big Moment Musical Cues got tiring after the 30 minute mark.

    But these are just initial impressions. Maybe when I think about it more I’ll warm up to it a bit. Like Aronofsky, there’s just something about Nolan that I don’t get.

  71. I have to say I don’t understand a lot of the lukewarm I’m seeing on INCEPTION. I walked out thinking masterpiece.

  72. indeed, I thought it was a masterpiece as well

    anyway one thing I think is really interesting about Inception is something that may or not be there

    I’m wondering if Nolan may learn more towards a libertarian or conservative?

    I’ve heard people say that The Dark Knight was a “defense of the Bush administration”, I’m not gonna go into that, but one thing I’ve noticed about Inception involves the characters played by Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy

    Ken Watanabe’s character is this really powerful business man and in any other movie he would probably have wound being the villain or something, instead he’s works right alongside Leo’s team instead of simply hiring them and his goal is in fact noble, he wants to prevent a monopoly of the energy business

    Cillian Murphy’s character is also interesting because by the end of the movie he’s a very sympathetic character

    basically in this day and age it’s surprising to see really powerful business men depicted as anything other than assholes and villains (take Wall Street Money Never Sleeps for example, which I saw the trailer for before Inception and is directed by Oliver Stone, who is a die hard liberal), so it makes me wonder…

  73. or I could be just reading too much into a political element that’s not really there

  74. But in BATMAN BEGINS, Rutger Hauer’s character as the chairman of Wayne Enterprises is your stereotypical evil businessman. He’s pushing to sell out the company’s previous head’s ideals, turning to arms manufacturing, downsizing where he can and demoting and eventually firing the remnants of the old regime. And while Saito’s goal in INCEPTION may be overall beneficial to everyone, it still also saves his own company from going under. He’s also happy earlier in the movie for Leo to execute some guy if he so chooses. I think it was really all just to be less cliche that Saito seems a bit more noble, though one of the ways to interpret the ending involves believing he isn’t so, and is kinda full of shit.

  75. I think it was more Nolan wanting to do more with what otherwise would have been a stereotypical archetype without necessarily making him sympathetic or whatever.

    He’s a CEO dick, but all those guys in that 3rd Act had to show some sort flashes of courage by basically escaping by the seat of their ass.

    Though I think its funny how Nolan makes us supposed to feel good for Murphy’s resolution…but fuck man, its the opposite. He got played.

    BTW, thoughts on Tom Hardy himself the new Mad Max?

  76. “Matrix Thieves” is good. I thought of Inception as a kind of Subconscious Mission Impossible.

  77. It’s a lot like THE STING. And a little like SOLARIS.

  78. So Greenberg was dreaming the whole time? That explains a lot. Or not.

  79. I have nothing really sensible to say about INCEPTION except HOLY SHIT.

    I don’t think I’ve come out of a theater grinning so much since CHILDREN OF MEN however many years ago that was.

  80. that was going on 4 years ago Casey

  81. Either way, I totally understand Casey’s feeling.

    Maybe INCEPTION is truely that good or maybe not, regardless like TOY STORY 3 it definately lights a fire under your ass, reminding you that you know this shit is why instead of leading productive healthy lives, we waste our time with movies and blabbling about them on the Internet.

    If TS3 is (without me being insulting) a true family film that makes kids and adults cry over plastic, then INCEPTION is for the adults. Not a movie necessarily made for the teenie boppers, who may or may not be blamed for alot of the crap we’ve gotten in theatres this year.


  82. I thought Hardy stole various scenes with his character and if I’m interpreting him right, he’s playing a gay badass, which is a rarity?

  83. Stu, what gave you that idea? I’m not disputing it, but I didn’t pick up on that at all.

  84. Jareth Cutestory

    July 20th, 2010 at 9:34 am

    I hope the character was gay. It would be one element of the film that the viewer wasn’t led to with such a heavy hand.

  85. He calls other men “darling”, and he’s comfortable assuming roles where he has to flirt with them. Admittedly, the former could just be because he’s british and possibly has a bit of a background as an actor, so just uses “luvvy” speak(or possibly a retro throwback. I’m reading The Hunter right now and a straight guy calls another one “sweetie”), and the latter just because he’s that good at assuming aliases. Though the way he teases Arthur throughout seems to be him poking fun at the guy’s attempt at a serious, macho demeanour, which seems more a natural thing for a gay guy to do when they’re just as accomplished and skilled as he is from when we see him dealing with the snow fortress troops(btw, another Nolan signature: blowing up mountaintop bases?).

  86. I couldn’t agree more, RRA. INCEPTION is why we go see movies.

    Actually, a nice audience story in that regard: I got to the cinema about fifteen minutes early and started groaning as the seats around me slowly started getting filled by 15 year olds. Nothing against teenagers in general but they often talk at movies… which is one of the few things that makes me crazy mad. But these kids were as engrossed in the film as I was, saying nothing at all until that very last scene, at which point they were the ones groaning.

    Stu: I probably missed some dialogue, but what made him gay?

  87. Scratch my last question Stu, I didn’t see your most recent post.

    Christopher Nolan really hates mountaintop bases!

  88. It’s just my take on him. He might not be, but just based on the above and his overall manner, if he’d turned out to be, I’d figure it made sense, and I like that if he IS, the film doesn’t state it explicitly one way or another. Saito and Ariadne are the only people in the film who don’t have have an existing relationship with him, and if Dom and Arthur and the chemist already know, then there’s really no reason to bring it up.
    Though amusingly, doing a google search to see if this was something anyone else picked up on, I read that Hardy apparently based is mannerisms as Eames on Nolan himself.

  89. Casey, I had a similar experience. I live in New York, where the audiences are notorious for not shutting the fuck up. And it’s not just teenagers. Every other movie I saw this summer was besieged by chatty retards who couldn’t seem to figure out what the rest of us were doing in their living room, disturbing their inane conversations. But nobody said a word during INCEPTION. I guess that’s the benefit of a movie that you actually have to pay attention to.

  90. Jareth Cutestory

    July 20th, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Majestyk, I saw a chatty retard almost get in a fight because he was giving someone a play-by-play of the movie on his cell phone. He just wouldn’t put down his phone.When a fellow movie-goer started threatening the guy, he shifted his running commentary from the film to the altercation itself (“now some dude is telling me to shut up. I think he’s going to whoop my ass”), then to the theater employee who was brought in to settle the dispute (“some guy in a uniform wants me to leave; can you believe that?”).

  91. People think they can get away with anything these days. They have no fear of reprisal for their shameful, selfish behavior. Judiciously applied beatdown-induced public humiliation is clearly the only answer.

  92. Majestyk, I know what you mean. For a city with as many cinemas as New York you’d think it’d be easy to find a good one. Excluding art house places, my best experiences have been at the Battery Park Regal on North End Ave… and I don’t even try to go to the movies in my home borough (Brooklyn) any more.

  93. I feel you, Casey. Court Street is the closest theater to my apartment (not counting BAM, but I can only see so many staid Korean dramas in any given decade), but I haven’t been there in years. I’ll only go there to see a movie I know will suck so that the audience participation will actually enhance the experience. And luckily there’s a liquor store right across the street so I can add to the cacophony of clinking bottles rolling around on the floor.

    Strangely, I’ve found that the 42nd Street theaters, once home to the most unruly audiences in the world, can actually be more civil. I think it’s because nowadays they’re attended by a lot of frightened tourists who think they’re going to get stabbed if they call attention to themselves.

  94. Which isn’t a bad idea, now that I think about it.

  95. Jareth Cutestory

    July 20th, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Just have the theaters put that message up on the screen before the film starts: ONE OF YOU FUCKERS WILL PROBABLY GET STABBED.

    But you’re right about seeking out specific theaters in which to watch certain mob-friendly films; a local repertory theater is showing DEATH WISH 3 in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be very disappointed if the film is played to a silent theater.

  96. Sometimes the rowdiness can be great. Watching RAMBO with a packed house must have been what it was like to watch a Christian get his face bit off by a lion.

  97. I live in a small town and people almost never talk in the theater

    rarely does someone text or something throughout the entire movie either

    it may not be the best movie theater in the world, but the audiences usually behave themselves at least

  98. Jareth — gotta say I feel like I’m kinda with you on that. Reading Faraci’s article, I was struck by just how little it really matters. SPOILERS The possibility that it was all a dream was pretty much obvious from minute one. SPOILERS But really, what difference does it make? I mean, that concept has been pretty much thoroughly mined by now, and certainly in greater detail than INCEPTION ever does. I hadn’t considered the analogy to filmmaking, and Faraci makes a compelling arguement for the film to be viewed that way (and RRA adds several relevant points, as well).

    But ultimately, so what? it’s a pretty shallow exploration of that, too, since while it talks a lot about planting an idea, the way it depicts it is dissapointingly literal (basically: go into someone’s brain and show them a piece of paper where it’s written). I just feel like pretty much everything in the film is right there on the surface, smartly constructed and exeedingly clever at times, but I don’t quite get how its affecting people so deeply.

    I think OCEAN’S 11 is actually an extremely apt comparison — another impeccably made and completely entertaining film, which is admirable and comfortably stands with some great moviemaking. Or JURASSIC PARK, if you want a film with some fun sci-fi ideas in it, too. Maybe on that level it is something of a masterpiece, but I just honestly don’t see much depth in there. So those of you calling it a masterpiece — what do you love so much about it? What hits you on a gut level, sticks in your soul, changes the way you think, etc. What did the film incept you with? Is it just that its been awhile since we’ve seen such a cool, well-made thriller? Or is there something really special and affecting about this one that I just missed?

  99. It’s not about that, Mr. S. Did ALIENS affect you on a deep emotional level? Or did expert filmmaking elevate a fairly typical action-horror plotline to something greater? That’s INCEPTION. It did not blow my mind in any conceivable way, and while the idea that it might all be a dream is not revolutionary, the movie handles it skillfully by making you wonder exactly where the dream started. My theory…


    …is that Leo’s wife was right all along. When they “woke up” from their deep subconscious dreamworld where they’d been living for decades, they just went up one level. When she went back to the real world, she then sent all the people we meet in the story to get him back. The inception of the title is the idea that Leo implanted into his wife’s head: That nothing in the world is real. And just like Leo exposited at great length earlier,

  100. (sorry)

    …the trick was to make him think that he had come up with the idea all on his own. That was the point of the whole adventure: to get Leo to come up out of the dream.

    Did it work? I don’t think so. After all, his wife still wasn’t there. I think we’ll need a sequel called EXTRACTION.

    While watching the movie, I tried to count how many levels of dream I thought Leo was in by the end. I think I was up to six or seven. Does that have any kind of real-world significance to it? Absolutely not. But it was entertaining and rewarding to puzzle it out. Throw in some astonishing action and spectacle (honestly, I did not believe Nolan had it in him) and yeah, I’d say masterpiece isn’t too hyperbolic at all. But we’ll see in a few years.

  101. (Bear in mind that this is just my own pet theory. There are plenty of others that would work just as well, I think. I think that speaks highly of the movie.)

  102. SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILER I think the whole point was that it doesn’t matter what was dream and what wasn’t. The emotional catharsis experienced by first Cillian and then Leo are completely legitimate and meaningful and earned, no matter what level of consciousness they’re at. It’s sort of what Neil Gaiman explored over and over again in his SANDMAN work: that the waking world is defined by the dreaming one and both have an equal claim to reality.

  103. Mr. Subtlety – I think Faraci’s analysis is more evidence for how compelling the film is than you’re really giving it credit for. But I actually think Faraci is being a bit narrow in order to make a more convincing argument for his own rather conclusive take. SPOILERS. Part of the genius of the film, due in no small part to the Schrodinger’s cat of an ending, is how perfectly it conforms to so many different interpretations. It’s similar to MULHOLLAND DR. in that way, opposite interpretations and theories can be equally correct. Like Schrodinger’s dead/alive cat, the ending indicates that Cobb is dreaming/awake. We never see that stuttering top fall, so we have to assume both possibilities to be equally true. Even if you believe Cobb is in reality at the end, the seed of doubt has been planted and you have to question whether the current layer of the onion that appears to be reality is really the outer skin. I think the structure of the film makes it an order of magnitude more complex than, say, SHUTTER ISLAND. To the point where I was trying to count the layers like Mr. Majestyk and becoming increasingly dazzled by the possibilities. All of my hairs stood up on end as I watched that last shot, knowing that we were probably going to get a smash cut to black instead of a conclusive yes or no ending.

    But there’s also the purely visceral experience, and I haven’t been that wowed in a theater in a long time. CHILDREN OF MEN was mentioned, that sounds about right. A film that sustains an hour long action climax that occurs on five layers of reality each with their own relativistic time rules and ripple effect repercussions is a beautiful thing to watch.

  104. actually now that I think about it, wasn’t there a visual reference to Children of Men with the guy on the motorcycle pointing his gun at the driver in the van?

  105. Jareth Cutestory

    July 20th, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Mr. Subtlety: I guess the root of my problem with INCEPTION is best described by a phrase Majestyk came up with earlier: Nolan is just so literal-minded. The film is compelled to hold your hand and walk you though scene after scene where characters expository slogans in place of dialogue, a problem that was just as bad in DARK KNIGHT.

    Gwai Lo mentioned Lynch, but a key difference is that Lynch knows how to seduce an audience. I’d also say that MULHOLLAND DRIVE offers a far more unique take on the theme of memory and fantasy than the rote cliches witnessed in INCEPTION.

    I have plenty of nice things to say about the film, though. The way that the action was so well integrated into the plot was a welcome change from the conventional “set piece” mentality that so many films trade in, so I’ll heartily second Majestyk’s opinion on that front.

  106. Mr. S:

    We probably have different criteria for what makes a masterpiece. Why must we be hit on an emotional level? It’s fine if it happens but I don’t think it’s absolutely required to make a great movie. Isn’t it enough that a movie does what it does exceptionally well?

    I think you have to give INCEPTION a lot of credit for sheer audacity. I had my own point ready but Gwai Lo says it better. Can you think of any other movie that has anything like “an hour long action climax that occurs on five layers of reality each with their own relativistic time rules and ripple effect repercussions” and still remains accessible to audiences?

    Hopefully this isn’t veering into that Roger Ebert “definition of art” minefield, but there is art that inspires your emotions and art that you admire just for its sheer craftsmanship and beauty. INCEPTION is in that latter category.


    Though there’s some logic flaws in Faracci’s argument. He says Cobb doesn’t know how the dream technology works or the nature of how dreams function, but how can he not if he’s USING that technology to dream? And if you’re saying all that stuff about layered dreams and technique’s like “Mr. Charles” is just bollocks, then how can you really adequately determine what is and isn’t real in the dream with no established “rules” if the stated rules don’t actually apply? I also don’t know how you can reconcile the idea that the other characters are a team working on him with scenes like the one where Ariadne is told by Arthur that the dream constructs are taking notice of them. If she was part of the team, wouldn’t she know this already and not need it told to her by him? If Dom’s the mark, when he goes down to Limbo, why do Eames and Saito still try to finish the job with Fischer? Wouldn’t that have no real bearing on Dom’s issue? Also, when Ariadne and Arthur get out of the sinking Van, wouldn’t she have been able to drop her cover to talk to him about their real mission, rather than just say Dom had gone into Limbo to get Saito? And at what point in their plan were they meant to convince him that EVERYTHING, including the waking world, was a dream? If it was when he supposedly kills himself to get out of limbo at the end, then there’s the problem of he still thinks there’s a clear line between dream world and waking world, so taking that action would just send him back to what he considers either a higher level of the dream, or to “reality”, so what I’m saying is, I don’t recognise what their logic would be in that plan.
    On the other hand, my nitpicks aside, I wouldn’t put it past Nolan if he had tried to write the movie so that you could use both interpretations of
    a. It was all a dream from the beginning
    b. At the end he may or may not have left Limbo with Saito. NOT left because he realised Saito was lying about being able to help him (his reaction looks possibly angry when OldSaito mentions it), and figured a dream would be better than the reality of prison and no kids. DID leave because, um…the spinning top was sorta wobbling and seemed to possibly be slowing down, so MIGHT have been about to fall. But overall an ambiguous thing open to interpretation…y’know…like a dream. The fact his kids aren’t older doesn’t mean anything when you consider the film DOESN’T make clear how long he’s been seperated from them for, and we never see their faces in his memories, so the only thing to judge their aging off of is size…which isn’t necessarilly an exact thing.

  108. Mr M — yeah, thought about that along with a few other alternatives. Depending on how many levels of dreams we’re looking at, a lot of possibilities emerge. This site has a few suggestions, all of which are possible.


    Nolan deliberately and kind of coyly avoids giving us any signs to determine what is and isn’t real; any random point beyond entering Fischer’s dream could be a dream within a near infinite number of other dreams — any level of which would change the point slightly. its sort of fun to guess at it but to me its almost so open-ended that doing so is pretty pointless. Regardless of who’s really doing the dreaming and when, there’s just not much depth any way you slice it. It’s simply that we’re given ambiguous and incomplete information on purpose to make it an unsolveable puzzle with plenty of red herrings that can be interpreted any number of ways.

    grumble. Naw, I kid. On a purely sci-fi thriller level, its the tits. Hardly a false note in the whole thing, and a tension-ratcheting sequence really worthy of the hall of fame (the idea of the different time scales is truly genius — easily the best and most original thing in the movie). I really enjoyed the thing, was completely into it. Ultimately, I think I was a little confused by how people were gushing over it and wondered if I had missed something deep — especially since the film itself seems to take its ideas very seriously and portentiously. But I can totally accept that its just a really well made and fun sci-fi thriller which leaves you a little room for imagination. On that level, home run, no doubt.

  109. Mr. S – Remember BLADE RUNNER? The guy may or may not be a fucking robot. You could argue either way for thematic or literal reasons. But it doesn’t matter, its just asking a question. So yeah, notice how Nolan has a real hardon for BLADE RUNNER. Shit apparently he even apologized to Ridley Scott after showing him INCEPTION for ripping him off so blatantly.

    Also, speaking of cool 1980s movies made by British directors, what movie did Nolan show his INCEPTION crew before production? PINK FLOYD THE WALL.

    It’s like he’s doing his best to be my #1 contemporary filmmaker. Nice brown nosing Chris.

  110. RRA, I fucking love both BLADE RUNNER and PINK FLOYD THE WALL as well

    yeah Nolan is my man

  111. Would you please consider reviewing Garfield 2? Please?

  112. Griff – Vern needs to review THE WALL and slap its self-indulgent wonderful ass.

  113. I don’t mean this to piss on anybodies love of Inception, or to say I’m right and the people who think it’s awesome are wrong…Personally, I really wanted to love it, but I found the whole thing kind of mechanical, derivative and even slightly boring; it’s not so much that I think it’s bad film-making, just that watching it was a little like seeing a skilled magician perform an elaborate card trick – mildly impressive, but not something I care all that much about either way.

  114. well W.S. it sounds like you need to LET THE POWER OF NOLAN COMPEL YOU!

  115. I doubt Vern is going to see this since this is such a long and complicated thread. However, I thought you had once wrote a review for a movie called Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon. It’s directed by Albert Pyun. It’s a fascinating story because Pyun and the producer basicly screwed Guam out of a loan they received from the Island. Anyway, the ever reliable IMDB mentions Issac Florentine did some reshoots for the film. It’s probably not a good movie but the trailer shows some awesome looking single take kung fu fights. Worth looking out for that and the history behind the making of the film.

  116. I can’t read all this stuff about Inception. I haven’t seen it yet. I’m beyond tired of reading about it, and that’s mostly just the headlines. I just wanted to say that Greenberg is great, smart filmmaking about a character who is seriously screwed up, yes, and in pain, and obsessed with his past, and failure, and does some horrible things, but fights against the worst in himself and manages to redeem himself a bit in the end. He’s not like Les Grossman (and I do think Tropic Thunder is pretty funny), or those characters on Entourage. As a film, Greenberg is not a celebration of everything that is wrong with our culture.

    I don’t think that what Baumbach and Stiller are doing here is calculated to appeal to any particular audience because I think it comes from a genuine place and that shines through every frame of the film. It’s Baumbach’s best-looking film to date, as if that matters to anyone.

    I’m annoyed that in place of discussing a film or analyzing a director’s work, Skani, who hasn’t seen Greenberg, feels it’s useful in some way to speculate as to various actors’ motivations for doing the work they do. You like Sandler and you don’t care for Ben Stiller. Fine. They’ve both had high points and low in their careers. But how do you know that Sandler is a decent, down-to-earth guy? And who cares if he is? What does it have to do with his (mostly execrable) films? Save that nonsense for the AICN talkbacks, I say.

  117. In response to Vern’s comments about Wes Anderson/Charlie Brown, I was amused to hear the Vince Guaraldi track “Skating” from the Christmas special in the short of BOTTLE ROCKET (played over the gun range montage).

  118. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRUcm9Qw9io Baumbach and Stiller reunited. Looks like it could be good.

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