Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Terrible Tuesday: On Inception

Okay, so I might be abusing the word 'Terrible' but this movie was a real thorn in my craw. I feel like I messed up that colloquialism, but not enough to Google it. Either way, I have a lot of issues with movies that are overly popular without having earned it. In short, no, I didn't think the movie was terrible, but I certainly didn't think it was anything special and was even hovering on the edge of not being good. Why? I'm glad you asked. 


Most Idiotic Review

"... it feels like Stanley Kubrick adapting the work of the great sci-fi author William Gibson ... Nolan delivers another true original: welcome to an undiscovered country." — Empire magazine

Recently I have a harder time finding a review to truly fit this section, to the point where I almost consider cutting the most idiotic review entirely. Today is not one of those days. This review literally drew a, "Fuck you," from my lips upon reading it. I was so astounded by what I had read I actually went ahead an reread the review a couple of times. Kubrick and Gibson included in a review of this? This is what I'm talking about. The movie, I'm sorry fanboys (I'm looking at you WheelsTCW), IS NOT THAT GOOD.

Most Accurate Review

"I found myself wishing Inception were weirder, further out ... the film is Nolan's labyrinth all the way, and it's gratifying to experience a summer movie with large visual ambitions and with nothing more or less on its mind than (as Shakespeare said) a dream that hath no bottom."  Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)

Now, this might not be Phillips' point, but what I took away from his statement is that yes, I wanted the movie to be more daring. For a movie with such an out there concept ... it plays it really safe. Like most of Nolan's forays into the film world, he has an out-there-concept with a straightforward solution. Inception is no different, and while it has large visual ambitions ... I don't think there were really that many of them. If anything, I can list them on one hand. You had the flooding hall, the exploding street, the folding city, the hallway battle, the ruined city, aaaaaand ... uh. I'm having trouble thinking of others off the top of my head. So I guess I disagree about the Shakespeare quote. This dream has a hellova shallow bottom if you ask me.

What I Say

I didn't get this movie. I don't mean that it went over my head. If anything it went under my head and a little to the left. It made a nice little whooshing sound on its way by. Then I stepped out of the theatre and I was greeted by the craziest Holy-F*ckery of a movie I'd seen in my lifetime. The internet went crazy. Why? People are stupid. But besides that, I'm going to delve into what Nolan and Co. really produced with this movie. 

Plot  This is a heist film, plain and simple. Normally I'd have no problem with that. But since the film had such an fresh concept, I was really hoping for more. Leonardo DiCaprio plays as Cobb, the proverbial walking thanksgiving meal. Cobb is joined by his fellow dishes  on an epic quest to ... sabotage Ken Watanabe's competitor's company. Riveting. How do they do this? By planting the idea in the heir to the company's head by using illicit military technology.

Throughout the film we descend deeper into Labyrinths created by Not-George Clooney's Ocean's Six. The respective settings are the streets of a nameless city, a hotel, and ... a snow-capped mountain fortress straight out of James Bond villain's layer which is also a hospital. Then there's Limbo, a dreamworld that you can only escape from by killing yourself which you won't know to do unless you realize its not a dream, but for some reason people forget that it's not a dream. Check.

There's also Cobb's dead wife, who's storyline is earily similar to Leonardo's arguably better film, Shutter Island.

So far, so good. I actually like the plot. I don't feel like there's anything wrong with it. I feel that there is a lot more that can be done with the concept of entering dreams, but the film certainly never lied to me about what it's premise was, and at least it restrained itself from flopping like The Cell.

Characters  Aaaaaaand the movie falls apart. I don't connect with any of these characters. None of them, which is astounding, seeing as this is a star-studded cast. And I have a way to demonstrate this fact.

1) What can you tell me about the individuals in this cast?

Now ...

2) What can you tell me about the individuals in this cast?

And here's the thing. I really dislike Tarantino, which I'll explain with another quote. "You only have good taste is you ... find long streams of pointless dialogue that don't have anything to do with the plot of the movie you're watching." (Tired Ov Shitty Movies)

That said, I think my point still stands. Tarantino's characters feel alive, not just plot devices. I know nothing about these characters Nolan populated his film with. Who are they? What's their backstory? What're their hopes and dreams. The most we ever see of the ensemble is what job they perform in the context of the heist. That's it, and for me? That's inexcusable storytelling. As I like to quote, novelist Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island) said, “Character is plot; character is dialogue; character is scene. A story with a few strong characters can occasionally survive a weak plot, but a story with a strong plot cannot— ever— survive weak characters.”

Well, in film, weak characters can be saved by strong actors, and at least to Nolan's credit, he knows how to cast amazing talent who really seem to fill out their cardboard cutouts. I don't necessarily think the characters themselves are inherently bad, they're just never given any way to connect with the audience, so I still think they're poorly written. 

The only character who really gets the focus (oddly it's not the character who's head the ensemble is inside of, his characterization begins and ends at 'Daddy-Issues') is Leonardo DiCaprio. He's haunted by the same backstory of the traumatized widower struggling to maintain his own sanity in the face of having a job to do and questioning reality. I'd probably be less harsh on this if not for the mere existence of Shutter Island (which is coming up in this review a lot) which I think delves into the psyche of its protagonist much more succesfully, which is hilarious considering they were limited to, oh, I don't know, reality? 

So Cobb is haunted by his wife, Nolan favorite Marion Cotillard, who he feels guilty over the death of. He doesn't trust himself at performing his job as an extractor anymore, but this one last job will allow him to return to the states to be reunited with his children. Already I can see a much better story involving Cobb trying to cause Inception in the authorities controlling his expulsion from the US, so that he can return, but I digress. 

This has been a common complaint I've had about Nolan's characters. It rides the line between 'Show Don't Tell' but never really achieves either. We know things about characters, but always as an outside observer, a third party without any ability to participate. We're the people in the stands watching the guy streaking. Sure we can guess as to why his dangly bits are on display for all to see, but other than a chance of strange flashbacks, oftentimes we're not given much else to work with. 

Spectacle — Okay, so last but not least. This movie is visually spectacular ... when it wants to be. And to be honest, I was left wanting. For a movie with a concept with such rich potential it literally fights to stay grounded in reality, and I thought that was cool, right up until I saw Terry Gilliam's Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. If you want to see a movie that takes its concept and Looney-Toons runs across the chasm on a Acme Rocket, this is the film for you. Only Terry Gilliam's imagination can sustain something so ridiculously over the top and, as always, purposefully strange. Now, personal preference aside, I think Inception should have leaned a bit closer to the strange, especially as they went 'deeper'.

Actually, since this is getting to be a longer review, I'll end on this note. You want to know what I'd have liked to see? This.


  1. I appreciate the plug. I will always enjoy this movie, though not always for the same reasons. I will concede that although this was Nolan's most ambitious work (his opus, in his own words), it wasn't his best at tying the loose ends. I won't try to justify why this movie is as great as I think it is. I don't have the time, energy, nor expansive vocabulary. I will say that each time I watch this movie, I find something else to focus on; where the dreaming begins and ends, Cobb's personal sabotages, and why the other characters are important to Cobb himself, not necessarily in the scope of the heist/plot.

    1. Don't leaving me hanging! Please unpack your ideas. I'd love the discussion.