Open Mic

July 2010

Not Your Grandparents' Sandman: 'Inception' is the Talk of the Town. One Major Critic Confesses He Doesn't Get the Film; and What That Says About Shows Such as 'Lost,' '24' and 'Twin Peaks'

Chuck Ross Posted July 21, 2010 at 7:25 AM

I’ve never met Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, but I’ve always considered him a smart and thoughtful movie critic.

Gleiberman published an intriguing blog yesterday (Tuesday, July 20, 2010) entitled “ ‘Inception’: Am I the only one who didn’t get it?”

The piece clearly hit a nerve: in the first 24 hours it drew more than 500 comments.

Gleiberman begins the blog by saying, “This particular blog post isn’t an analysis, or a description, so much as it is a confession: I found myself more or less entirely baffled by ‘Inception.’ I tried, I really tried, to figure it out, but I just couldn’t get the hang of it — not really. For approximately two out of every three minutes the movie was unfolding on screen, my honest experience is that it was vague, obtuse, scattershot, puzzling, confounding – and, finally, maddening. There were moments, of course, when I was dazzled.”

He continues by writing, “Too often, I couldn’t connect the movie to itself; for most of the running time, the act of trying to put together what was happening made my head hurt.”

Being a smart guy, he notes that the basic plot of “Inception” is NOT hard to understand. Where Gleiberman says he got tripped up, was in the details.

He writes, “I think that where I kept getting lost, over and over and over again, was in the leaps from one dream level to the next. I never really understood how this worked. When you’re inside one dream level, what’s happening, at the same moment, in the dream level above it?”

Gleiberman asks a number of detailed questions like that, and then concludes, “Frankly, it all seemed maddeningly arbitrary.”

Later he notes, “I felt as if the real leaping between dream levels is what [writer and director Christopher] Nolan was doing, frantically, in the editing room.”

Gleiberman concludes, “It’s a movie designed, in its very structure, to be analyzed forever. But that’s because, in my view, it’s a cinematic videogame that keeps making up its rules as it goes along. And if you think that the film really does make sense, then I’m tempted to say: You’re dreaming.”

It’s an intriguing point that Gleiberman makes, and one that could be made in regard to a number of movies and TV shows, particularly those by David Lynch (“Mulhulland Drive” “Twin Peaks”) and J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” “Fringe”).

Yes, indeed, the devil is in the details. But the question is, can one enjoy and/or find stimulating a work of art or an entertainment wherein the details might be, at times, murky.

As a fan of the work of Lynch, Abrams and shows such as “24,” where the details are, yes, sometimes maddeningly inconsistent or seemingly nonsensical, I would argue that doesn’t diminish our enjoyment of the particular work, but actually enhances it.

We love to argue over the details. That in itself is fun and stimulating.

So yes, I’ll see “Inception” again just for that reason. It’s a terrific thrill ride.#

This Year's Emmy Awards Telecast Could Be One of the Best in Years; Will 'The Good Wife' Score?

Hillary Atkin Posted July 13, 2010 at 3:35 AM

Some fresh, new blood has been injected into the races for this year's Emmy awards and some interesting additions and omissions make this one of the most appealing Emmy competitions in years. And, it will be a short one with the televised ceremonies set for August 29.

The Emmys are known for anointing some of the same people for years on end. Tony Shalhoub is a perfect example. Although his show, "Monk," has ended its first run, Shalhoub was nominated for a staggering eighth time as best actor in a comedy series. He's taken home the trophy on three of those outings.

But make a couple false moves, or even just one, and see your Emmy reign ended--even if it has absolutely nothing to do with your on-screen character. Former Emmy darling Charlie Sheen—a four-year in a row contender—didn't make the cut this year as best comedy actor, as he waits to resolve his domestic violence case. Jeremy Piven’s mercury poisoning incident had repercussions far beyond the Broadway stage he departed. He’s apparently dragged his entourage down along with him. Recently a repeat contender for best comedy series, it received just one major nomination this time. Ouch.

Kicking "Entourage" and "Two and a Half Men" to the comedy curb made room for two new entrants that are sure to have a long Emmy run, "Glee" and "Modern Family." Both had large numbers of nominations showered upon them. “Nurse Jackie,” not exactly considered a comedy in most viewing households, is a surprise entrant in the category, which has long been dominated by "30 Rock." But don't count out the Rock just yet. It scored 15 nominations, including those in every acting category except supporting actor.
Long-time laffers “The Office” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are also vying for the trophy.

But it was the late-night comedy terrain that had the most drama. Clearly a message from the voters—and the huge surprise to everyone else—Conan O'Brien racked up four nominations for his abbreviated seven-month run as host of "The Tonight Show." Leno: 0.

Bad-boy behavior at the office may have contributed to the abrupt end of David Letterman's 26-year long streak of garnering Emmy nominations. As Jay said, maybe they'll both be watching the telecast from Oprah's house.

Thirty-five years after it premiered, “Saturday Night Live,” shows no signs of waning, ending its season on a high note with the Betty White Mother’s Day episode. That show alone garnered seven nods, including—hooray!-- one for Ms. White. In fact, SNL has quietly become the most nominated show in Emmy history, with its 12 new nominations this time around bringing its lifetime total to 126, surpassing 124 for “ER” and 117 for “Cheers.” As the years go on, Lorne and crew will obviously widen the gap.

Speaking of raw numbers, HBO is again in triple digit territory, with 24 of its 101 nominations coming for "The Pacific.” No drama in the miniseries category, a business in serious decline on television. The only competition for the 10-part Spielberg-Hanks produced World War II saga is “Return to Cranford,” which aired on PBS.

Riding the current trend of the popularity of all things vampire, the pay cabler’s “True Blood” finally broke through to Emmy voters, as did the overlooked “Friday Night Lights.”

“The Good Wife” as a best drama nominee and industry favorite Julianna Margulies as best actress vaulted to the top of their class in their freshman year with nine nominations, boding well for a fertile period of popularity with Emmy voters.

“The Good Wife” joins “True Blood,” the just-departed “Lost,” “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter” in squaring off against recent perennial trophy-getter “Mad Men,” whose nattily-attired leads, Jon Hamm and January Jones, are naturally up for the gold.

It’s going to take a lot to dislodge the folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce from their preeminent Emmy position, but “Wife” could be the one to knock them off their pedestal.#

That Awfully Funny Looking Bottom Line: Is That Some Sort of Vaudeville Joke?

Chuck Ross Posted July 9, 2010 at 1:37 AM

[Just this week both Disney and Rysher Entertainment lost lawsuits to profit participants who said they were owed money. But the system was designed to discourage these kind of lawsuits. Which reminds us of this story. It's a conversation between an Executive Producer of a TV series and his Friend at the studio that produced the show.]

Executive Producer: I understand that our show has been very successful.

Friend at Studio: Very. The most successful TV series ever.

EP: That it made millions.

Friend: Well, it brought in millions. Hundreds of millions.

EP: As a profit participant, I think I’m gonna sue. I never got any money.

Friend: Of course not. And you’d be crazy to sue.

EP: But you just said it made millions.

Friend: No, it brought in millions. Didn’t make a dime. In fact, it’s still 79 cents in the red.

EP: You’re kidding.

FRIEND: Listen. You’d be crazy to ask for more money, and sane if you didn’t, but if you’re sane you’ll probably have to ask. If you ask you’re crazy and won’t get any, but if you don’t want any you’re sane and have to ask.

And, of course, if you tell some ordinary schnook about this they’ll say it would be crazy not to ask, because how can a show that made hundreds of millions not be in the black, but let me tell you, you’d be insane to ask ‘cause these studios play hardball and have long memories and don’t like to be screwed with.

EP: Wow. That’s sorta like that Catch—

FRIEND: Yeah. It’s sorta a Catch-22.

EP: That’s some catch.

FRIEND: It’s the best there is. It’s res judicata.

EP: Huh?

FREIND: Ipso facto.

EP: What?

FRIEND: If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull.

EP: Oh. I get it. Well, I don’t give a darn. I still might sue.

FRIEND:  What?

EP: I don’t give a darn.

FRIEND: That’s our shortstop.

(with apologies to Joseph Heller, Abbott and Costello and W.C. Fields)