Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dream a Little Massive Dream with Nolan

Summer isn't generally the season of auteur flicks and INCEPTION is the exception that proves the rule. It stands out. If it's not the best mainstream movie of the summer (Toy Story 3 already won the title), it wins the prize for most ambitious. Christopher Nolan first won critical adulation with Memento (2000) and he's proven remarkably consistent ever since. His bulky busy movies are always about men with personal demons in conflict with other men with personal demons (female characters are mere window dressing) who have to navigate an often mind-bending narrative while wearing what amounts to a pop psychology exoskeleton. (See also: The Prestige, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Insomnia.)

Inception is a tough film to describe and occasionally to follow. The multi-layered plot involves a team of dream infiltrators who are hired by corporations to steal ideas, the theory being that once you know something, it can always be found in your mind. The sci-fi premise is complicated as is the business of dream theft. Whole teams with specific roles and skill sets are required. You have to have "The Point Man" (Joseph Gordon Levitt) for logistics, "The Extractor" (Leonardo DiCaprio) to steal the idea, "The Architect"(Ellen Page) to design the dream world in maze like fashion (for reasons best left to discover in the movie), "The Forger" (Tom Hardy) who can shape shift within the dream for strategic purposes and still more players, too. A lot of explanation is required to understand the complex set of rules governing this artificial dream world but thankfully it's fascinating enough to mitigate the annoyance of the near constant intrusion of expository dialogue. One would immediately welcome a sequel that could dispense with all the explanations to get straight to the big visuals and suspense...

Tom Hardy has a big gun as Inception's MVP

Read the rest of my review @ Towleroad.

We'll surely talk more about the movie as more of you see it over the weekend.

And we'll also have to delve into Oscar dreams and critical nightmares. But see the movie first. In its corner: it's totally worthy of discussion which is why the discussion-killing 'my opinion is awesome and all others are wrong' rhetoric around the web is so extra sad. This type of coverage, which is ironically attempting to raise the film up, is actually doing it a great disservice since Nolan offers plenty to discuss and argue about.
*
*

20 comments:

Robert Hamer said...

As I said on In Contention, the bizarre rhetoric dominating the discussions of Inception all stem from the "O" word. I'll be seeing this one tomorrow, and I look forward to it.

Andrew R. said...

Seeing this tomorrow.

Danielle said...

How did you like Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page's performances, even if they were mere window dressings?

Seeing this tonight at midnight.. very excited. :)

Kyle said...

What's sad is...I bet somehow, this STILL won't get nominated for Best Picture.

Arkaan said...

What did you think about Carrie Anne-Moss in Memento, Nathaniel?

Jay S said...

I am also interested in knowing what you think about Marion Cotillard and especially Ellen Page.

And Kyle, I was actually thinking the exact same thing earlier today. Oscar will surely find some trumped up reason to ignore Christopher Nolan again. Hopefully this time the Best Director Nod WILL BE in the bag, just like everyone thought Dark Knight would be. I, unlike many people, have always been floored by Chris. Although, yeah, his female characters need a lot of work. He just needs to bite the bullet and write a film for a female lead. I'm sure every actress in Hollywood would clear their schedule for them these days.

John O'Neil said...

Great review! Definitely agree that the zero-gravity fight is the best sequence, although I did love the opening. So inventive, yet disorienting.

NATHANIEL R said...

Jay & Kyle -- i'd be okay with them skipping this for Oscar, since I only give it a "B". But i know the fans would be so angry.

I wish Nolan would get better at action sequences (again the zero gravity sequence is awesome but the others?) since that's where his interests lie.

Arkaan -- to be honest i don't remember Memento that well. I saw it so long ago. I liked it with reservations. Same story with all Nolan films. I've never disliked one of his movies, very consistent director, but I've never thought that any of them were "great" movies. Just solid good movies. There is usually one or two real problems preventing greatness.

Danielle -- like i said in the review i thought the characterizations were really thin so apart from Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard I didn't really think the acting was very good. Both Hardy and Cotillard did a lot with the limited characterizations. But to me Page and DiCaprio were total bores. Maybe i should have made that clearer in the review.

NATHANIEL R said...

Jay & Kyle -- i'd be okay with them skipping this for Oscar, since I only give it a "B". But i know the fans would be so angry.

I wish Nolan would get better at action sequences (again the zero gravity sequence is awesome but the others?) since that's where his interests lie.

Arkaan -- to be honest i don't remember Memento that well. I saw it so long ago. I liked it with reservations. Same story with all Nolan films. I've never disliked one of his movies, very consistent director, but I've never thought that any of them were "great" movies. Just solid good movies. There is usually one or two real problems preventing greatness.

Danielle -- like i said in the review i thought the characterizations were really thin so apart from Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard I didn't really think the acting was very good. Both Hardy and Cotillard did a lot with the limited characterizations. But to me Page and DiCaprio were total bores. Maybe i should have made that clearer in the review.

troyhopper said...

I'm eager to see "Inception," but much like Nate I typically find myself disappointed in some way or another with Nolan's films -- save for "The Prestige" (interestingly enough), though admittedly my expectations for that one were lower. I have yet to pinpoint exactly what the disconnect is, which bothers me even more.

The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

"This Christopher Nolan dood is a pretty good director." -> overheard during tonight's screening of INCEPTION.

Sid said...

But Nat, I though Nolan directed the hell out of those action sequences -- he has certainly improved exponentially in that department since his last feature.

I think there was a little too much exposition, and I could've done without the last shot but I still think it's fucking brilliant. Masterpiece? I dunno, multiple viewings will make that clearer. But I certainly think you're under-praising it.

NATHANIEL R said...

Sid -- my thing with the "multiple viewings" tack that so many people are taking is won't it be super boring a second time, since so much of the movie is spent explaining itself. TO me it doesn't seem like it would improve with multiples because you already know its mysteries.

just my suspicion.

Sid said...

I agree with that being one of the weak points of the film -- it explains too much! So you could be right about the multiple viewings thing.

/3rtfu11 said...

I already said this at In Contention and I’ll repeat it here.

Not so random thoughts about Inception –

-Leonardo Dicaprio, please make a comedy soon! (The Academy doesn’t hate you like they do Tom Cruise.)

-Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face is so attractive! (I was embarrassed by the first half hour of his close-ups.)

-The zero gravity portion of the film is the overall personal highlight. (In an alternate reality this would be the whole movie.)

-This is Nolan’s best use of actresses.

-The ending caused an instant Annie Wilkes reaction of “What you’ve written just isn’t fair!”

dbm said...

I liked it just fine, in fact do I dare say, it exceeded my expectations ? True Nat, it is easily the most ambitious film of the year maybe even the last few years ( including Avatar )

I will admit that I set myself up to be very focused on the film ( which was a nice change of pace ) so I never got confused during the movie but it does require to think, which I didn't mind in the least.

Even before I saw the film, I had predicted it to be the nomination leader at the Oscar's and after seeing it has even cemented those feelings.
It's hard not to think that that Leo isn't a lock for a best actor nod becuase he pulled two real good performances this year.
Honestly, I don't see how you could sit down and see this movie and leave not liking it.

Henry said...

Great film. Honestly, I could give a crap about the excessive amount of hype. I think, in this summer, we need to overhype a film. And it deserves the hype. Frankly, it's been a disappointing summer (and after Salt next week and maybe The Other Guys, what else is this summer going to offer?) and Inception is a nice tonic.

Blinking Cursor said...

Saw this last night, and I'll have to see it again due to having the film sullied by the four french teenagers that were sitting next to me, and who wouldn't stop whispering through out the movie. Two of the kids had a weak grasp of english, and the other two kept having to translate and explain the plot of the movie.

As to the movie itself, I have to agree with you Nat, it's very good, but no masterpiece. The performances were good all around, but it's unlikely that anyone will get singled out for an Oscar nom. Dicaprio's Dom Cobb is too similiar to his Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island, and of the two performances, I think his TD one was better.

As for the ladies, Cotillard and Page do the best with what they're given, but the characters are thinly drawn, and Page's Ariadne in particular has the unfortunate task of being exposition girl. Which is a shame because it doesn't fully utilize Page's range. I had initially thought she was going to be revealed as the secret villain of the piece in the third act, and that Page would bring it a la Hard Candy, but alas, it was not be so.

Still a good movie, and worthy of praise, but not the hype.

sheila king said...

Interesting. However, I'm still not down with your opinion of Shutter Island at all, so I kind of wonder if I'll be down with your opinion of this at all. Likely not, but we'll see.

Daryn G said...

I enjoyed it more than you did, Nate, though I'm not convinced that it's a masterpiece, just because I suspect that there may be gaping holes in the narrative logic of this fictional universe that will be clearer on a second viewing. However, I didn't mind all the exposition, because I don't think it really explained everything--I think it was more like a dialogue between characters trying to puzzle out the constantly shifting rules of the game. And I liked that DiCaprio's character seemed to know more than everyone else, yet he was revealed as a neurotic four-flusher with a deeply sentimental side.