Inception a non-stop rollercoaster ride, Micmacs makes merry

by Mark Burger

The wide consensus is that this summer’s selection of big-screen diversions hasn’t been terribly good, which makes Christopher Nolan’s Inception feel like a real find.

This futuristic head trip focuses on the concept (and the reality) of dreams, of emotion and of thought itself. Heady stuff indeed, and fertile ground for Nolan’s inventive imagination to flourish.

Leonard DiCaprio plays Cobb, a dream researcher-turned-corporate spy at the forefront of technology that allows him to infiltrate people’s subconscious while they sleep. By engineering their dreams, he can affect their process of thought to his own end.

Cobb selects his “dream team” (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao) to engage in some intricate corporate sabotage using the technology at their disposal.

Their target is Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), heir to a global empire created by his dying father (Pete Postlethwaite), and the idea is to plant the notion into Fischer’s head (while he’s dreaming, of course) to break it apart. There is, of course, considerably more to the story than that, particularly when the film depicts dreams within dreams, delving even further into the concept. This is one of those rare films in which it is almost impossible to predict what happens next.

There’s also the specter of Cobb’s late wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), whom he continues to encounter in his subconscious. Cobb is still consumed with guilt over the circumstances of her

death, for which he is at least partially responsible and for which he is unable to return home to the United States. Mal’s presence, even in a dream state, threatens to compromise the operation.

There’s clearly an existential bent to these proceedings, as well as detectable bits of inspiration (including Stanley Kubrick, Phillip K. Dick, Alistair MacLean and such previous films as Brainstorm, Dreamscape and, yes, A Nightmare on Elm Street), but Inception is its own unique creation — as effective for the ideas which it presents as the spectacular ways in which they are presented.

The film embodies Edgar Allan Poe’s old line, “Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?” — and these days, thanks to the advancements in visual technology, it’s entirely possible that if you dream it, you can film it.

Technically, the film is first rate, with awardcaliber cinematography, production design and special effects. The performances are also very fine, although Michael Caine has very little to do in his brief appearance as Cobb’s former mentor and father-in-law. Still, it never hurts having Michael Caine on hand.

Although the film is played straight throughout, Nolan brings a sly wit to his cinematic sleight-of-hand. There’s a lot of exposition to cover and to absorb — and, in certain instances, to twist and tweak — yet the story never becomes too bogged down. Nolan creates his own rules but never breaks them, although he does indulge in some creative rule-bending.

Slightly overlong at nearly 150 minutes, Inception is sometimes as exhausting as it is exhilarating, but Nolan cannot be accused of skimping on anything. It’s a mind-bending, refreshingly intelligent, innovative epic fantasy that never lets up. Occasionally it’s too much, but it’s never not enough — which is more than enough to make it one of the summer’s best entertainments. Inception is a knockout.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s first film in five years, Micmacs, in French with English subtitles, is a broad, elaborate, gorgeously stylized absurdist comedy in the tradition of Terry Gilliam, with a bit of Rube Goldberg thrown in for good measure. It’s great fun from beginning to end.

Dany Boon plays Bazil, a luckless Everyman who has recently lost his job at a video store — where, amusingly enough, they still rent videocassettes — after he is struck in the head by a stray bullet. Suffering from repeated hallucinations, Bazil fears that his time is short and is determined to take advantage of his second chance at life by making a difference in the world.

Years before, his father had been killed by a landmine and, following his own shooting, he decides to bring down two local weapons manufacturers, one that specializes in land mines, the other in firearms. In yet another amusing touch, the two corporations’ headquarters face each other across the street.

Joining Bazil in his efforts is a group of misfits who live together in a bunker located beneath the city’s garbage dump. Each one has a special talent that will assist in Bazil’s scheme, which doesn’t exactly go according to plan. (No surprise there.)

Bazil’s team of endearing oddballs includes Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon, Omar Sy, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Marie-Julie Baup, Yolande Moreau and Julie Ferrier, the latter as a contortionist whose obvious attraction for Bazil goes almost completely unnoticed by him. All of them have their moments to shine. Andre Dussolier and Nicolas Marie play the rival targets of Bazil’s plan, and the fun mounts watching them come unglued with each act of sabotage.

With unflagging energy and invention, Jeunet (who also collaborated on the screenplay with Guillaume Laurant) whisks the viewer away into a stupendously surreal and deliciously silly misadventure. Yet for all the satire, there’s a message at the heart of the film — one that doesn’t speak highly of what might euphemistically be called the “business of violence.” The targets of Bazil’s revenge are in that business therefore makes them deserving of their comeuppance. Call it wishful thinking.

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