Inception – Review

INCEPTION 

Directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen PageTom HardyKen WatanabeCillian MurphyTom BerengerMarion CotillardPete PostlethwaiteMichael CaineLukas Haas

THIS REVIEW ASSUMES THAT YOU HAVE SEEN THE FILM AND IT’S FILLED WITH SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YOU SHOULD NOT READ IT, BUT YOU SHOULD GO OUT RIGHT NOW AND BUY YOURSELF A COPY ON DVD OR BLURAY !!

So much has been written and talked about this movie that it’s hard to say anything new about it. However I didn’t want to miss my chance to talk about what I thought was one of the most inventive and challenging blockbuster of the last few years (and the top film of the year in my view), and with its release on DVD and BluRay (I guess the first of many), to the risk of repeating what’s already been said, I’ll just add my voice to the many others among the people who loved this film.

I have already seen it three times and I guess I am now fully comfortable with its story and structure, but also I did notice the few cracks here and there.

However, it is so refreshing to finally see a big budget Hollywood movie that doesn’t treat its audience like a band of lobotomized idiots but actually attempts to do something a bit more challenging, beyond the silly Pirates of the Caribbean or the awful Transformers movies, but it seems to me that this is what blockbusters have become in the last few years. I honestly cannot remember what’s the last big Pop Corn summer movie I have enjoyed. Can anyone help?

This film makes no apologies for its labyrinthine structure and it’s as if  you could almost hear Nolan saying to me “c’mon, keep up! Keep up!”. It is a mentally draining experience (I don’t think I have been so exhausted since Nolan’s Memento, which I loved, or even Mullholland Drive, which I’m still trying to work out… ). Basically in this film if you miss even 5 minutes, you’re screwed! And I love it for it!

But the most interesting thing I noticed this time is that the film is actually made in such a way that even if you don’t completely understand it, you’ll understand it enough to be able to appreciate the action and the basic plot with its intricate layers of dreams.

You’re supposed to get lost in the beginning, but never lost enough to lose your patience… and then slowly you start to understand just enough to be able to cope with it… So basically, the film makes you believe that you are pretty clever in being able to work it out by yourself, while in fact the huge amount of exposition helps you immensely.

People have been criticizing the fact that half of the movie is essentially exposition, where the characters are telling you what’s going on and what they are going to do and how… Well, funnily enough I though that was part of the fun. I don’t mind exposition, if it’s done in a clever, fast and intriguing way like in Inception.

People have been criticize it for its cool and clinical approach to characters. I have been hearing people complaining about not feeling anything for Di Caprio’s internal  pain. Well, I don’t know what to tell them about that, but I thought the scene where Marion Cotillard commits suicide was actually emotionally incredibly strong and Di Caprio’s performance was pretty faultless. Yes, maybe Ellen Page’s character was just a functional piece of the puzzle but actually pretty two-dimensional, but hey, does it really matter? Was I sitting there thinking “Oh My God, what is she feeling? I want to know more about her?” No!! I was completely unwrapped in the story to notice any of that and it didn’t matter to me. Marion Cottilard is utterly terrifying as the ever-present ex-wife. Just her presence is enough for me to give me a great sense of unease. She’s perfect in it and she’s quickly becoming my favorite French actress. Cillian Murphy in his character manages to convey both strength and weakness: at the beginning you think he’s got the world in his hands and at the end you almost feel pity for him and you understand his pain. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is incredibly watchable. Surely it must not be too easy to be next to Di Caprio and come out just as strong and sympathetic as he does. We’ll be hearing a lot about him (but then again, I was already a fan from the time he did “Mysterious Skin”). Tom Hardy is the surprise of the film. I knew what to expect by all the other ones, but Hardy really took me by surprise and did so much with what was quite an underdeveloped character, making him likable, sharp and witty. Finally I should probably mention Michael Caine, who does almost nothing in this film, and yet, just by the fact that he’s there he gives me a sense of security and serenity that it’s un-replaceable.

Also the visuals obviously are so stunning that you sort of want to forgive even any little character development. The CGI effects in Paris are some of the best ones and most inventive I have seen in recent times. It is so hard nowadays to still be able to amaze us with any Visual Effects and yet Nolan has been able to do it over and over again in this film. It’s the combination of clever Production Design, imaginative Visual (and most of the time Practical) Effects that make it work seamlessly.

The corridor sequences are just a joy to watch and the cross-cutting between the van falling off the bridge in slow motion and all the other levels is just so pleasing and works so well: it’s intricate and yet so simple at the same time, so much so that you wonder why hasn’t anyone done it before?

Where the film falls a bit is in the final act, the so-called “James Bond moment”, that is when we get to the level with all the snow. Maybe because at that point it becomes in part almost like a normal action film, and actually not a very good one either. The staging of the shootout and the chase sequences on the snow are all pretty average and slightly drawn out. Mind you at that point there are so many other things going on and you’ve been so bombarded by so much that you don’t really mind it too much, but it is the weakest part of the film in my view. Also in a way, since you are in a dream, they should have probably pushed it a bit further. But hey, I’m really picking needles here.

I wish all the blockbusters were just 20% as inventive, challenging and beautiful to look at as Inception was. I can’t wait to see what Nolan does next (well of course, Batman 3… but I mean beyond that).

9/10


Back to the Future – 25th Anniversary

It’s hard to write a review about a film that’s so much-loved and regarded by pretty much everyone as a modern classic, without sounding too obvious or even without upsetting somebody out there. So for the time being I might just start to talk about the first 5 minutes of this undisputed classic. More than a review, this is really just an excuse to talk about one of my favourite films. And what better excuse to do that if not its new release on Blu-Ray for its 25th anniversary?

So, inspire by the recent BBC “Film 2010” item, I am going to re-visit “Back to the Future” to try to understand what makes those films such undisputed classics.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Michael J. FoxChristopher LloydLea ThompsonCrispin GloverThomas F. Wilson

Right from the very beginning of this film, in fact from the very first shot, you can tell that we are in the hands of somebody who knows exactly what film-making is: somebody who knows that film-making is about telling a story with pictures. And that’s exactly what “Back to the Future” does. The very first shot of the film is a clear example of certain type of story-telling that we are going to find throughout the whole film: a single tracking shot, moving through all the various clocks and inventions in the room, will not only tell us everything we need to know about Doc Emmet Brown but also will set up lots of clues and issues which will later become pivotal moments in the story. But I’ll get into that a bit later.

We can tell straight away that this is going to be a film about “time” as the camera travels through all the various clocks in the room. We can tell that the person who works or lives here is must be a rather eccentric person, maybe an inventor or some sort of scientists. The pictures on the walls, the framed newspaper articles, the mad inventions. No need for dialogue: pictures tell a thousand words.

I love the subtlety of the details hinting at the various plot points that we’ll later find out in the film. This is so typical of Back to the future. it is something that permeates the whole film, right from the start. Watching this particular shot (well, in fact, the whole film) is even more enjoyable the second time around (…or third, or fourth… Or like me, the erm… not quite sure actually: I’ve lost the count a long time ago).

And so we hear the TV announcer talking about the missing plutonium, the clock with the little man hanging from one of the hands, the box of the plutonium itself at the end of this first very long track).

Even technically, the whole camera set-up is pretty impressive. Zemeckis is the master of these kind of one-take wonders and he’ll get them to perfection in later films such as “Contact” (with shots that go through windows or, like a particularly amazing one, through a mirror), but also “The Polar Express” and “Beowolf” where he was able to use the animation and create camera movements which would have been impossible on a real film.

As the film geek that I am, I’m always a bit annoyed by the cutaway of the dog’s food landing on Einstein’s bowl. Even though it works absolutely fine, it breaks the flow of that otherwise-perfect single take and it’s a shame. I’m sure they could have found another way to show us the bowl somewhere around the time when Marty comes in, keeping the one-take tracking shot unbroken.

Anyway, moving on, Michael J Fox, enters the scene. After the long first tracking shot, the pace gets a little bit faster in a succession of quick tight shots, as Marty plugs himself into the amplifier. Marty flies into the air, crashes into some shelves and finally reveals himself to the audience, as he takes off his ridiculously 80s glasses. What an entrance! I still remember watching this in a packed theatre and hearing the laughter from the audience at this point. The films really grabs you right from the start and it’s mainly because of Michael J Fox’s charm and his ability to be likeable (I can see why they decided to dump Eric Stoltz). And because of the deliberately slow first 20 minutes of the film, it is essential to have somebody like him as our main character. And we like him straight away. “Damn! I’m late for school!”. How can you not like him?

What this first shot manages to do is pretty much what the whole film does all the way through. It plants the seeds for things that will get resolved or explained later on, setting you up for a big payoff or simply just joke.

This is the strength  of “Back to the Future”: its perfectly constructed script. Nothing is there by mistake: if an uncle being in prison get quickly mentioned, it’s because later on we’ll see it as a baby inside a little cage. If  we see a poster of a black mayor on the side of a van, it’s because we will get to meet him as a young person later on. I could go on mentioning all the little details that pay off throughout the film and I’ll still be here tomorrow. There are just so many of them, just like those one liners which have become so much part of our popular culture:

“Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” “Dad… Dad… Daddy-o” “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.””I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it” “Great Scott!” “EIGHTY-EIGHT MILES PER HOUR” “1.21 GIGAWATTS!!”, “The Flux Capacitor”, “Hey McFly”, “Hello? Hello? Anybody home?…” “Lou, get me a milk, chocolate!”, “My density has popped me to you.”, “Calvin Klein”

I mean… I could probably go on forever! In a way, the whole damn script is quotable today (In the BBC Film 2010 video above, they do a nice little montage of some of the famous one liners”).

I hear that the script is used all over America in lectures on how to write the perfect script. Whether it’s true or not, it makes perfect sense.

I’ll finish off the little “review” of the first 5 minutes of the film by mentioning the song that kicks in once Marty jumps on his skate :”The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. Watching it then, at the time, back in 1985 when the Back to the Future was released, this song gave you just the right amount of energy that the film needed at this point, to lead you to the next few scenes. Watching it today, it’s like a blast from the 80s, in the best sense of the terms. Nowadays it’s impossible not to associate this song with the film, but also, it’s impossible not to think about the film thinking about or even humming this song. And just like the chicken and egg never-ending question, it’s impossible to think of one without the other.

There’s obviously a lot more to talk about in this film (and its sequels too): not just the fabulous Christopher Lloyd and the rest of the great cast from Crispin Glover, to Lea Thompson, to Thomas F Wilson, but also the amazing action scenes, the witty humor, the sharp editing, the make up and special effects, the twists, the skate boards… and of course “johnny B Good”.

But for now, let’s just leave it to that. If there’s enough interest I might carry on examining the rest of the 3 films.

%d bloggers like this: