The Summer Review (pt 1)

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Hello everyone, and welcome to the inaugural post of the Film Blog. For this first post I thought it would be appropriate to pick up where the paper traditionally leaves off. The summer blockbusters! Sadly, though this summer has been slim as far as movie pickings are concerned. To start off here’s my review for the most anticipated movie of the summer:

Review: Inception

I like to lucid dream. It’s a process where I have complete control over all of a dream’s aspects. Things that are nonsensical make sense, because I want them to be present. If I want Oscar the Grouch and the Wombles to start a football riot it can happen at the speed of my thoughts and to the delight of my whims. The way that I can do this is to realize I’m dreaming. But if you can’t do this then your dream is out of your control which is something that we all just write off as a normal fact about dreaming. Moreover, it is also difficult to determine when you’re dreaming and when you’re awake. What if in these moments of vulnerability people could invade your dreams and steal the thoughts from your head? How would you be able to tell the difference between reality and the dream?

Christopher Nolan’s Inception asks these questions amidst an alternate present day landscape where ruthless thieves can steal ideas from people’s dreams with a little bit of finesse and some sedatives. The process is called extraction and within the context of the story is used as a sophisticated form of corporate espionage. Enter Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) an expert extractor who is on the run from the law in the US because of his criminal past. His team consists of a rag-tag group of mind hackers including Arthur (Joseph Gordon–Levitt) his point-man, Eames (Tom Hardy) his forger, and Ariadne (Ellen Page) his new rookie architect. As is the case with most heist movies, along comes an offer from Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese business man that is offering Cobb his life back, but instead of stealing an idea, Cobb and his team must plant one. A process long thought to be impossible.

At first glance Inception seems to have all of the ingredients necessary for a successful heist film. Indeed several elements of it are entertaining. Each member of the team exhibits special skills which give you the hope that despite all the odds they will succeed. Moreover, the special effects are entertaining as well mostly because Nolan restricts the use of large scale CGI. In fact, the hotel sequence (this is a cryptic, yet spoiler-free description) is one of the coolest moments in the movie. Moreover the film’s second half is taut with thrills and suspense.

However, despite all the hype Inception has some issues that keep it from being a perfect score in this man’s book. First off I said that it’s entertaining, but not all of it. For example, The Matrix was a good action flick, but the first half is boring as hell. It mainly has to do with all of the plot and character development that has to occur before the action packed second half. It’s a problem that many movies face but generally the heist film can avoid this by introducing the team to the audience in the opening scenes. Given this tenant of the heist movie genre you would think that Inception would try to mitigate these problems with a colorful cast of supporting characters to inject a lot of comedy into the script prior to some of the more tense moments in the second half. But sadly, that isn’t the case. In Inception, each member of the team (save for Ellen Page) is exactly the same. And when I say exactly the same I mean they even dress alike! It’s like there was a 5 for the price of 1 sale at Armani and the wardrobe department ran out of ideas.

Instead the first half of the film opens with a strong shoot-out moment which then degenerates into an exercise in cinematography for Nolan. Okay, we get it you can make closed loop paradoxes and weird geometries, but when are you going to use it for something cool? In the end this all just amounts to one fist fight for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character where he creates a paradox. Is it a cool moment? Sure. Does it justify all of the hype and build up? No, not really.

Finally, and this is perhaps the most disappointing thing about it, is the fact that Inception asks some pretty deep questions regarding dreaming and the nature of reality. This is where the crux of the artistic argument regarding the movie lies. However, all of these questions are superficial. Where a film like The Matrix or Altered States asks similar questions and then has the characters provide rather profound answers, Inception provides no answers at all. I mean rhetorical questions are one thing, but seriously? We sat through a two hour movie which had the premise that there was some sort of point to all, and in the end you give us no answers and, quite literally, leave the ending and indeed the entire movie shrouded in ambiguity. Sure some dreams have no point at all, but more often than not they have a point or a message to get across. It all just depends on how deep one is willing to go in order to find it.

I know that his review seems harsh, but I’m tired of people praising Inception as though it were a cerebral thriller that took enormous time and effort to discern. It’s akin to praising competence as though it were brilliance. Most of all though my main gripe with this movie is that it had so much potential and in the end is just mediocre.