Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What I Watched on Vacation Part I: Inception

* Note: this was actually going to a single entry discussing three different films, but INCEPTION (surprise, surprise...) took a little more space than I anticipated.  So I'm breaking it up over the next couple of days.

** 2nd Note:  I didn't realize until after posting how much the picture of my son, above, matched the opening shot of INCEPTION.  I love coincidence!
...And this time I mean an actual, physical vacation, complete with airplanes, sunny beaches, greasy restaurant food and scampering kids, as opposed to the breaks I've taken from blogging.  Various members of the family converged on Ormond Beach in Florida for a week-plus of no Internet, no television, and lots of sun and sand.  But as much as I wanted to disconnect myself from all the techno-babble that surrounds me on a daily basis (going so far as to pack those ancient relics known as paperback books), I couldn't escape the pull of the popcorn, not to mention the stack of DVDs I brought with me (just in case, you know?), so in the spirit of that laid back week, here are a few thoughts on some of the new and old movies I caught during my time away:

Despite not being connected it was nearly impossible to get away from all the talk about INCEPTION.  There are some great arguments - both for and against the film - all over the Internet and in print, but for all the arguing around the ambiguous ending, hidden meanings and metaphors, and the numerous battles over Nolan's literal-or-not interpretations of dreams and how INCEPTION stacks up as a "dream film" against others as disparate as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, and the entire filmography of Luis Buñuel, I didn't see a lot written about what I saw as the main pleasure of the film, and that's a classic noir/heist template, similar in set-up (if not in execution) to the types of movies I grew up watching with my father.  Every beat is present: broken man takes one last job in order to get home, the classic picking of the team, the plan, the new guy tagging along only to be shot later - it's all there, complete with the ticking clock and the femme fatale, in this instance plated by Marion Cotillard, looking more beautiful every time I see her.

The cast in general is excellent, especially Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon Levitt, who provide the only spots of some much-needed humor.  I definitely have some quibbles: similar to THE DARK KNIGHT the editing feels a little too choppy and disorienting, not giving enough sense of space - this is especially apparent in the chase sequence in Mombassa, where I almost saw Leonardo DiCaprio jump, run against a wall and leap over a car.  or maybe I didn't, since everything happened so fast.  And then there's the aforementioned tone, which gives the movie the impression of taking what is essentially a crime thriller way too seriously.  Each spot of humor - from the various examples of what a "kick" is, to Joseph Gordon Levitt's stealing a kiss from Ellen Page (who is wonderfully but poorly used as an exposition device in the film) - feels like a breath of fresh air, and reminded me of how much fun the movie could be.  And then there's the obligatory ambiguous ending: I know that if you have a movie about dreams that you're almost required by law to end your film with "Is it or isn't it?" but I think Nolan would have made a stronger statement had he landed definitively one way or the other.

But here's the rub. Despite all that, I genuinely enjoyed INCEPTION, so much that I went back a second time, which I also enjoyed.  But the questions I asked myself each time I read another lengthy essay expounding on the utter failing of the film or the evidence that points to a work of genius on multiple levels, is this:  Why are we so insistent on one extreme or the other?  Can it be enough to say the film is solid?  It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it works enough for me to unequivocally recommend it?  And am I allowed to see it simply for what the movie shows me - an inventive heist film with the shades of noir that bring me back to those weekend afternoons on the couch, devouring those black and white images that flitted across my tiny tube television?

I wonder if Christopher Nolan feels the same way.