Well, don’t expect any clips, as Netflix weren’t able to supply any, but Gawd bless them anyway (love Netflix, hate not having any clips), as without them the only way to see the second act of Breaking Bad’s fifth and final season without being American would involve breaking the law. It dominates this week’s running-late Telly Addict, which also finds time for the C4 documentary Crazy About One Direction; the promising US crime import Low Winter Sun on Fox; an approving nod to the end of series one of Love/Hate on Channel 5; and another unsavoury documentary humiliating people on “welfare”, Benefits Britain 1949, also on C4.
Here’s a thing. Beasts Of The Southern Wild opens in cinemas today. I saw an advance London preview of this film in August, which is unusual for me, as I’m happier waiting for a film’s release, but my interest was piqued by a rave review in the New Yorker back in June by the reliable David Denby, in which he hailed it as “the first classic of the Long Recession” and “a joyous movie”, praising its “exciting palpability”, its “oxygen-sharp sense of the present tense” and describing it as “raucous and alive.” That it has no star names, was shot on location on the Louisiana coast using many locals and non-actors, and is the feature debut of 29-year-old director Benh Zeitlin and co-screenwriter Lucy Alibar pushed it right to the front of the queue for me. What was this film Beasts of the Southern Wild?
Well, I, like many other critics who’ve been fortunate enough to see it in advance (it showed at Cannes and Sundance, and, this week, the London Film Festival), was totally bowled over by it. I have reviewed it for Radio Times and given it five stars. Now, I am very careful when handing out five-star reviews. I’m not a film critic who has to see every film that’s released every week, and I like to think this makes me less jaded and broken by the sheer weight of chaff, and gives me a level head. It’s dangerous to rate a film when you walk out of the cinema or screening room, and since August I have reconsidered and regrouped, and I still think it’s worth five stars.
However, there’s a problem with five-star reviews: they can be “quoted” on a film’s publicity without any supporting language. My five stars have indeed been included on print ads for Beasts, alongside many others. The ads are lit up by a veritable constellation of stars. This is a film that seems to stand apart from the herd – magical and heartfelt, yet dark and foreboding; naturalistic due to the involvement of untrained actors and the tactile bayou setting, but hyperreal at the same time, with fantasy and overstatement thrown in – which means it won’t delight everybody. That’s usually the yardstick question you must ask yourself as a critic before handing out five stars: will anybody be able to enjoy it? Is it the equal of Casablanca?
Who can know for sure? Not everybody would like Casablanca! (It’s in black and white!) Wanting to see a film again, soon after seeing it for the first time, is a good gauge for me. And I can’t wait to see Beasts of the Southern Wild again.
So what is it? It’s a fable set on the wrong side of the flood defences in New Orleans, where the dirt-poor subsist, literally, off the fruits of the sea, and barter not just crayfish and crab, but stories and mythology and camaraderie. This is an ecosystem, and it’s viewed through the eyes of the six-year-old Hushpuppy, played by newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, who also narrates. I thought she was a boy at first, but she’s a girl. Her lone parent Wink, a functioning drunk with a good heart that’s also a bad heart, is played with dignity and depth by another non-thesp, baker Dwight Henry. And there’s a storm – another storm, as this seems to be post-Katrina – brewing.
What is already a ramshackle shanty town looks all the more precarious with a hurricane looming, but these people have nothing, and thus have nothing to lose. If you’re worried that this is “class tourism”, a gap-year view of poverty, don’t be. I never felt that Zeitlin or Alimar were patronising these resilient people; rather, offering them up as a lifeline out of the apparently “civilised” mess the rest of us on the other side of the wall are in.
The image that dominates the trailer and the posters is the one where Hushpuppy runs through exploding fireworks. This is not typical of the film, certainly not the bulk of it. The stampeding prehistoric aurochs – giant boar – are another image that should not be overplayed. They’re key, but do not dominate. It’s more about survival, and family, and hope, those unfashionable kinds of things. I love the way Hushpuppy holds animals and birds up to her ear, so she can hear their breathing – just to reassure herself that they are alive. It could have been hokey, but for me, it’s not. It feels warm and vital and real.
I’m just concerned that a film which actually deserves to be discovered is now being rammed down people’s throats. It may not be able to live up to the hype. It has big ideas, but it’s a small film. It’s not The Help. It’s not Driving Miss Daisy. It’s not The Color Purple. It’s not really about “color” at all. Neither, closer to home, is it HBO’s syncopated New Orleans-set Treme, whose defining local/political point of view feels conventional by comparison. It’s a bit like George Washington and The Wizard Of Oz, if either helps, but it’s mainly not like much else.
Nick Pinkerton, reviewing in Sight & Sound, pulled it to bits; more importantly, he called out all the critics who had given it five stars, and accused us all of being hoodwinked. (Somebody on Twitter called me “conceited” for suggesting that the rave reviews for Killing Them Softly were a bit over the top, but I never accused my fellow critics of being duped, which is, you might say, a bit conceited. I simply thought a five-star film by some consensus was more of a three.)
I would love to know what people think of this unlikely film. I’ve been living with my five stars since the first week of August, and now they’ve been pressed into service to promote the film, I’m feeling responsible. It’s my Beasts burden.
Not having time to review it here in full, two weeks ago I Tweeted about the hugely talented Australian director Andrew Dominick’s hyped hitmen caper Killing Them Softly, saying something pithy and eye-catching like, “Beware the four- and five-star reviews,” keen to posit a sincere counterbalance to the hype with a limb-balanced view that, beyond some smart dialogue, moodily derelict visuals and a nuanced turn by Brad Pitt, this is a fairly modest film that’s short and narratively underpowered, and perhaps not the dazzling, politically-charged Tarantino-esque epic-for-our-times it was being marketed as. You know, it’s a decent three-star movie. In my book. Which is the only book I’m writing.
At the end of the day, it’s just my opinion versus the opinions of most other critics, but I felt that anyone yet to pay good money to see it might, in fact, appreciate an alternative view. I was disappointed that it’s all over so fast, that so little actually happens, and that there isn’t much in the way of resolution. For all the newsreel that places it firmly in the US presidential election year of 2008, its ending is pretty facile, when it might have been profound. (When the credits suddenly rolled, I genuinely thought, “Is that it?”)
The reason I’m telling you this, is that one respondent on Twitter called me “conceited” for expressing my opinion. This seemed harsh. We are all entitled to an opinion, and everyone is a critic, albeit not necessarily a professional one. Since I had paid money to see Killing Them Softly at a cinema, as is my preference, I was not commenting as a critic, but as a punter. Nobody’s opinion is more important than anybody else’s, but to express your own is not conceited.
I am about to offer my opinion on another film that has picked up rave reviews from critics, Holy Motors. Peter Bradshaw, who I respect and like (and who gave Killing Them Softly five stars in the Guardian), gave Holy Motors five stars in the Guardian; Robbie Collin gave it five in the Telegraph; Nick de Semlyen gave it five in Empire, so that’s a broad waterfront. Now, it is a strange, oblique, difficult, experimental film, and was always going to divide opinion. My opinion is that it is preening, self-congrulatory rubbish. You may disagree with me.
I have no history with its writer-director Leos Carax, although I am aware that his Les Amants du Pont-Neuf was an artistic hit and commercial flop in the early 90s (“the French Heaven’s Gate“), and it nearly bankrupted him. (He has only made five features in just over 30 years, which lends his work a Malick-like cachet that it may, or may not, deserve. I don’t know.) I was all too aware that Holy Motors was a big splash at Cannes this year, and that it had Kylie Minogue in it, which – it being an art movie – seemed newsworthy.
Well, it does have Kylie in it. But it’s not vital that it does, other than she looks a bit like Jean Seberg with her Jean Seberg haircut, in the brief segment that she is in, and it seems that more than anything else Holy Motors is like a European Cinema exam. Those who have swooningly submitted to its admittedly colourful and stylish but unhinged charms seem to delight in its constant references to such giants of French cinema as Cocteau, Renoir, Buñuel, Godard and, most evidently, Leos Carax. I’m not enough of a scholar in any of these great auteurs to spot every nod and wink, but I get the picture. It’s a film about cinema, which also tips its hat to Chaplin, and Chaney … and to Georges Franju’s key 1960 horror film Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without A Face), in which Edith Scob wore an eerie facemask, and who, 50 years on, wears one in Holy Motors to make the debt as subtle as a big flashing neon sign.
I’m not against cinematic indulgence, or reflexivity, or in-jokes for cinephiles, although there can be something dryly academic about this kind of point-scoring. Not always: think of Pedro Almodóvar’s own playful update of Les yeux sans visage in La Piel que Habito (The Skin I Live In). It’s just that, well, I found the style, and the central performance by Carax muse Denis Lavant, irksome in the extreme. It’s not that I’m not clever enough to “get it”, just that I couldn’t get into it. It made me fidget. It frustrated me. Its undoubted audacity wasn’t enough.
There are amazing visual moments, such as the bit where Lavant’s mysterious, limo-bound master of disguise leads a brass band through a church, or when he dons a motion-capture bodysuit and performs an erotic tango with a lady, their movements transformed before our eyes into an alien animation; even some of the bits I hated, like Lavant’s transformation into the grunting “Monsieur Merde” who kidnaps Eva Mendes’ supermodel and shows her his erect penis in the sewer like a priapic Phantom of the Opera, had evocative visual merit. But I didn’t feel these added up to much.
There’s a journey, physically, and a series of episodes, that sort of join up to each other, but I felt as exhausted as Lavant’s latex-weathered clown by the end of the day and night over which the action takes place. And I won’t mention the humorous ending. Even people who are captivated by Holy Motors think the ending is a bit shit. It’s certainly an evocative spin around Paris, mostly by car, occasionally on foot, but the imagery seemed fashioned by blunt instrument, and unless you are a member of Carax’s club, you weren’t really welcomed with open arms.
That’s my opinion. It is an opinion that is mine. And what it is, too.
And yes, I know Buñuel was Spanish, but he had two French periods.
Overbearing hype? Protracted fanfare? Viral marketing campaign? Self-defeating build-up? Adverts for adverts? What a waste of money. They had me at “Prometheus.” Prometheus! It’s only Ridley Scott’s bloody prequel to Alien! 20th Century Fox (a News Corporation company) could have saved millions of dollars and just chucked it out without even bothering to design a poster. Surely cinema traffic would have been identical.
I was almost literally first in the queue for the first showing at 12.40 yesterday. The 3D glasses seemed new, which is a bonus, as they’re so often smeared with popcorn grease which cannot be removed, even with the wiping skills of Lady Macbeth. I hate 3D. Have I mentioned this? Because Prometheus is an “event picture”, and I was genuinely excited about seeing it, I convinced myself that seeing it in 3D would add to the “event.”
It sort of did, at the very beginning. But as soon as we were looking at people talking to other people, which happens a lot in films, even blockbusters, the 3D became an irritant. I don’t wear glasses, so even having them on feels awkward. And the only 3D films I’ve seen that work are computer animations. Live action in 3D is pointless. My guess is that the amazing visuals in Prometheus – the planet scenes, the CGI alien spaceship, the Alien-echoing egg-type chambers etc. – would be amazing in 2D. I look forward to finding out on DVD.
If Prometheus had been as magnificent as I was willing it to be, I would have gone back to see it next week, in 2D somewhere. But I’m afraid it was a disappointment. I’d say three stars, which is not a disaster, but three stars is not enough for a film subject to that much hype and expectation. I won’t go into too much detail, as the less you know the better it will be (I turned over when the much-fanfared second, longer trailer was “premiered” in the middle of Homeland, for fear of finding out too much), but Michael Fassbender steals the show as android David. Imperious, subtle, clever, fluid, he’s by far the best character. The rest of the crew, cryogenically awoken at the beginning, Alien style, a bit crumpled and Anglo-American, Alien style, were really nicely cast – Rafe Spall, Benedict Wong, Sean Harris, Idris Elba (playing an American just about) – but as with any supporting character in this type of story, they are mere pawns in a game of “Who gets killed next?”
There are moments, and entire sequences, in Prometheus, that feel like they are in the prequel to Alien, which should be a lovely big gift to fans of the franchise. (One with Noomi Rapace that I will not even hint at, is a tour de force on every single level.) But, like Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, which was Alien inspired, it starts much better than it ends. That’s why I can’t go into any more detail.
It’s a good sci-fi horror thriller. It rewards a working knowledge of Alien. It sticks to what Alien does best. And, of course, Ridley Scott can direct. He invented many of the moves in Alien, which have been copied and copied and copied ever since, so when he has another bash at them, he is Prometheus! It’s also possible that the bloody 3D spoiled my experience, but I’m confident enough in my critical juices to know that the promise at the outset is not paid off in the death. I wanted more. Not more action, not more gore, not more panoramic spectacle, but more … words. More story. More depth.
I’d be really interested to know what others think, so let me know. (I only switched over by accident but they seemed to be in the process of giving it a right kicking on Newsnight Review last night – I think Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian came closest, from the reviews I’ve read.)
On a lighter note, the man after me in the queue at the cinema asked to buy a ticket for Promiscuous. I wonder if that was in 3D?
This week’s Telly Addict, apparently flagged on the Guardian front page, which is nice, covers Mad Men on Sky Atlantic; The Voice on BBC1; Britain’s Got Talent on ITV1; and Titanic on ITV1. Hope you like it. Hey, be nice if you want to come and play in the comment playground, kids. (The Guardian took some photos of me today for a future byline picture. Only been doing this a year; maybe they’ve finally noticed me!)
So, Mad Men Season 4 began last night – watched, one imagines, by hundreds on BBC4. For those of us who’ve been with it from the start (and I don’t mean that to sound superior; I’m very rarely in at the ground floor with the best US imports, as you’ll know from past experience with The Wire, Battlestar, Curb, 30 Rock and, most conspicuously, House), the current media hoo-hah seems a little after the event. In fact, if I’d been watching it for the very first time last night, not having seen it before, I might even have wondered what the fuss was all about. Sure, it looks pretty, and the 60s setting is interesting and the suits well cut, but who are these people with rods up their arses, and why should I care if they win this account or lose that one? Well, rare indeed is the TV show that can live up its own hype. For my money, and I speak as an early investor, the first episode of S4 was dazzlingly clever. My heart was in my mouth on more than one occasion, and if it hadn’t been so late, and I didn’t have that stupid Derren Brown hoax to watch, I could easily have watched it all over again. They’re so finely polished these episodes, it would be a shame to delete them. They go on giving.
In breaking up the old Sterling Cooper, gradually, throughout S3, and re-established them at the bottom of the food chain, in an office with only a fabled second floor, the creators have been able to a) position Don Draper at the very apex of the business, where he always belonged, with his own “D” in the company initials (as Peggy said, those who jumped ship with him, did so because they love him), and b) cut away some of the dead wood. I’m sure we’ll see Sal and Kinsey again, but for now, it’s nice to have the sprawling cast cut back. Joan, so central to the hype – or at least Christina Hendricks has been – barely spoke in this episode. Not that her presence was reduced. The look on her face when Don sent the “two-piece” clients packing spoke volumes. But again, if I’d believed the hype, I might have assumed that the statuesque Joan was the star of Mad Men. She’s not. Never was. But she always felt like an essential internal organ, and, like so many of the supporting characters, has been fleshed out immeasurably over three seasons. Oh, and she has much bigger breasts than most women on telly. Don’t know if that’s been coyly referred to at all? Oh.
God, to hack through the think-pieces that have proliferated in the run-up to this season premiere! My own Radio Times had Kirsty Lang sounding the horn for women’s lib, as promoted by Mad Men’s pivotal role in both compartmentalising and patronising its secretarial class, while the wives and typists sought to unshackle themselves from the hob and the ribbon; no less than David Hare took the angle in the Guardian that if this is indeed a “fancy soap”, it’s one whose “governing metaphor” is authenticity (“Mad Men, at its most basic, plugs into the theme of class which powers so much great American art”); Melanie Philips fed her own bloated ego by devoting an entire column to the fact that she likes Mad Men in the mad Mail, as if this is news enough to power a page of text – oh, and she gets in a dig at modern society’s political correctness and its “hollow heart”, and dreamily retro-fetishises the smoking, drinking and “rampant predatory sexism, racism and other prejudices.”
Here I am, adding to the chatter once again. If you watched the programme for the first time last night and wondered what all the fuss was about, then please do yourself a favour and get the first, second and third seasons somehow. Borrow them, whatever. Mad Men has earned what it’s doing in Season 4. But you have to appreciate the breakdown to understand and enjoy the rebirth. “Who is Don Draper?” is only a profound question if you think you already know the answer. But even those of us who think we do, we didn’t know he liked a bit of that, now, did we?
It’s the fastest selling autobiography of all time. It’s A Journey, by Tony Blair. Formerly titled The Journey, but, after what publishers Random House (my publishers!) described as “a minor editorial decision”, this was stripped of some of its portent and pomposity with a clever switch from “The” to “A”. But they’re fooling no one: if this book was just a journey, it wouldn’t have sold so many copies in the first 24 hours of publication, outselling Peter Mandelson’s memoir three to one, and presumably singlehandedly saving the book industry from digital doom. The book is, like its author, very bad at humility.
I was on holiday last week, but Tony Blair followed me. August is known to be a slow news month, so you kind of expect front pages to be built around what’s in some books (Bjorn Lomborg, another twat, enjoyed the front page of the Guardian last week, too, because he’s got a book coming out). But the fanfare which greeted our former Prime Minister’s memoirs was deafening. The salient points were hungrily filleted and splashed across our newspapers, desperate after William Hague’s selfish failure to be gay for revelations about Blair’s record-breaking 100 years in power. These were, in brief: he thinks Gordon Brown lost the last election (he did); he had sex with his wife a bit, and on the day John Smith died – which he predicted! – he was a bit of an animal in bed; he warns against trying to be “matey” with the Queen; he thought the Finnish Prime Minister should “get a life”; and he feels really bad about all the people who’ve been killed because of him, but he “can’t” apologise for taking the country into war. That’s pretty much the long and the Clare Short of it, but love him or loathe him, you had to buy his hardback book, apparently. I own one of Margaret Thatcher’s memoirs, but I bought it in paperback years after its publication, and only because I was planning to write a novel about the Falklands. I expect Blair’s will be just like that: sketchy and selective, and not especially candid. (Admittedly, she doesn’t talk about having sex with Denis. Thank God.)
It seems that even people who hate Tony Blair have bought his book. This must be the case, as most people hate him. Don’t they? And I meant people who used to like him now hate him too, right? It’s the sheer promise he represented that makes him such a historic disappointment. (I got into trouble on Twitter for idly stating, for effect, that “everyone” hates Tony Blair, and a perfectly reasonable woman gently took me to task, as she clearly doesn’t hate him. Fair enough. I was generalising to make a point in 140 characters.) Although the admirable protests that met the author’s arrival at the marvellous and politically-charged bookshop Easons on O’Connell Street in Dublin made the headlines – especially as some protesters threw eggs and shoes – many Blair admirers queued up all night to get their books signed, mainly those who felt his part in the Northern Irish peace process was an achievement and – Blair’s favourite concept – a legacy worth celebrating.
That is for them to decide. For me, the fact that he sold Labour, and the Labour movement, down the river, systematically dismantling all that the party once stood for when it was proudly unelectable, is a greater legacy. And the invasion of Iraq is not even something I’d forgive him for if he had the letters of the words I AM SOOO SORRY tattooed across his, his wife and his children’s faces, one letter per cheek, and was forced to walk in a line with them, in the correct order, for the rest of their lives. Gordon Brown may have proven useless, but it was Tony Blair who lost Labour the last election. It is he who has given us the Tory government so many people seem to reflexively hate. It is he who had made Labour inelectable again, but for shoddy reasons, not noble ones. Without him, we might have a few more up-and-coming politicians who weren’t 41, and didn’t all look the same. He’s arsed it up for a long time to come.
Incidentally, according to the venerable Andy McSmith in the Independent, one of many hacks and politicos forced to speed-read all 720 pages of A The Journey this week in order to bullet-point its contents, this is what Blair writes about his decision to push through the Freedom of Information Act, which came into force in 2005: “Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders, you idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate … Where was Sir Humphrey when I needed him?” This is Tony Blair showing us that he is capable of the human emotion of regret, and is not afraid to admit what he regards as a mistake. Except shaking his head about the Freedom of Information Act, which has mainly hurt the government and MPs, even shaking it until it falls off, just makes his refusal to regret Iraq all the more galling.
In writing this, I am merely adding to the chatter. His interview with Andrew Marr, which was hardly the Chilcott Inquiry, but which Blair treated with the same grinning contempt (why does he snortingly laugh when exasperatedly reiterating that he takes no pleasure from the deaths of soldiers?), drew 1.8 million viewers, while Jon Snow’s concurrent grilling of the five almost-interchangeable Labour leadership candidates on Channel 4 drew about 0.5 million. It’s as if, truthfully, we’re still dazzled by the man’s celebrity. I say we, because I cannot claim to be ignoring him. I’m not. I’m caught up in it too. I wish he’d fuck off.
Tony Blair is donating his advance and all his royalties from The A Journey to the British Legion so that they can use it to help rehabilitate soldiers injured abroad. Why not – as Al Murray suggested on 5 Live this morning – just see how little your local bookshop is having to slash the book’s cover price to (£12.50 at Waterstone’s, from a RRP of £25), and donate that to the British Legion instead. That way, you circumvent a man’s ego. An ego which needs no further massaging.
I take no intrinsic pleasure in going against the grain of critical consensus. I am not an iconoclast. I am not a shock jock. It can get lonely out here on a limb. I go to see films in the hope of liking them. But I can sense I’m already in a minority about Christopher Nolan’s BIG new sci-fi blockbuster Inception, which opens tomorrow.
I found it a crashing bore. Meanwhile, Empire have published a review which takes a contrary position – a review which couldn’t be included on the page as part of their whizz-bang, all-cylinders, this-is-why-we-love-films cover feature because nobody had seen it when they put the magazine to bed. The reviewer Nev Pierce awards Inception five stars, and, over the course of an analysis that feels like it runs to the same length as the cover story, explains why – in short – THERE IS NOTHING WHATSOEVER WRONG WITH IT. The review, if you have an afternoon to spare, is here.
It seems Nev Pierce is not alone in liking Inception, although I would say that his watertight, no-quarter, point-by-point deification, potentially coloured by a collective, priapic pre-release excitement at his place of work, may come back to haunt him as punters stagger, deaf, from the cinemas this weekend. When their hearing returns, and they find that, in fact, they are not still thinking about Nolan’s woolly, old-fashioned, dream-versus-reality universe on Monday, or being kept awake at night by key philosophical questions this time next week, they might settle down and post-rationalise Empire‘s five star review to a four or a three. For me, it’s a two, and I was reeeeeeeeally looking forward to it! Maybe not as much as Empire, but a lot.
True, I felt locked out of the love-in for The Dark Knight, Nolan’s previous epic – mainly because I preferred Batman Begins – but I appreciated his work. It was ambitious and occasionally dazzling, and I liked the Joker and the bit where they were arbitrarily in Hong Kong, but Christian Bale’s croaky voice drifted into parody and there were too many villains and too many stories. All that said, The Dark Knight was a good film on points, and it sort of made sense. Inception, based not upon a book or a graphic novel, but on an idea that came straight from Nolan’s fertile imagination, lives or dies on whether it makes sense. And as grand and noisy as it is, its internal logic is pretty shaky, and again arbitrary. In it, Leonardo DiCaprio, reviving – so soon! – his haunted husband-and-father schtick from Shutter Island (anyone else unconvinced that he’s old enough to have kids?) leads a crack, sexy team of operatives who get inside someone’s dreams and extract information buried in the subconscious – a subconscious made manifest by the dream state’s eternal possibility. This is an attractive prospect: a cross between The Matrix and Ocean’s Eleven.
I liked the cast Nolan assembled for the job: Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy as the corporate heir whose head they need to get inside for “one last job” – there’s even a little cameo for Michael Caine – but when it comes down to it, they’re mostly called upon to shoot guns from moving vehicles and run – or float – about. Nothing wrong with a wham-bam action movie, but who needs one with ideas way above its station? Marion Cotillard is saddled with the worst part – DiCaprio’s wife. I won’t go into too much detail, for fear of SPOILING it for anyone, but she and he get the majority of the talking time, and by the end of it, I found myself making my hand into the shape of a duck’s head and making it quack silently, in the auditorium, while I longed for them to shut up. This was a very childish response, but it helped me through it.
This central thesis that anything can happen in dreams, except it probably won’t, is, for me, the film’s big downfall. DiCaprio gets to explain his line of work, in detail, and demonstrate it, when he recruits Page. This is the most exciting passage in the film, at first explosive and then awesome. She “designs” a dream world, and actually does infinite and mind-blowing things with it (you’ll have seen this in the trailer). I don’t know how she does it, but there are architectural models in her workshop which somehow become “real” when Murphy is hooked intravenously up to the flight case in a plane and knocked out with sedative. From here, again carefully explained by just about everybody, there are three levels of dream, and each is deeper than the last. Again, no plot giveaways, but one of these – again seen in the trailer and in Empire‘s extensive cover feature – is set in the snowy mountains of Canada. Why? This was never fully explained to me, although I’m willing to be it’s because Nolan fancied having some skiing assailants in his film, Spy Who Loved Me style.
Despite the apparently existential, mind-fucking core of Inception, it’s mostly about shooting and being shot, in the street, in a hotel, and up a mountain. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Again, I like a bit of gunplay, but if it’s constant, it loses its impact. (The pump-action shootout was loud and relentless in Heat, but it was contained.) Likewise the soundtrack. The film begins with a shot of waves crashing on a beach, and a throbbing, resonating orchestral chord. From here, there’s no let-up. Pretty much every conversation and exchange of gunfire has a musical cue. Zulu had about 20 minutes of John Barry music in it (this random comparison arises from the fact that I happen to know this); most of Inception‘s two and a half hours is scored. And at volume. Music is supposed to point up and accentuate the drama, not smother it.
If it’s about dreams, then we’ve all had dreams, and we know that in them, anything could happen. In this film, anything does not. Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland had a nutty, nightmarish quality, with stuff fading psychotropically in and out of view. Inception is not like that. Come in halfway through and you could be watching a cop thriller set in LA. The only real ambiguity comes in passages of expositional dialogue. Although Nolan cuts deftly between three levels during the bulk of the action, it seems justified less by the narrative, which is actually fractured as a result, and more by the fun (for him) of playing at being a visual Rick Wakeman. Needless to say, the music gets louder and most insistent as the tension builds. And it takes a long time to peak.
I cannot do anything about my visceral reaction to the film. It was not for me, that’s all. It felt empty. Although there is an emotional subplot, I didn’t much care about the protagonists. Inception is less than the sum of its parts. You should go and see it if you’re as pumped up about it as I was before Tuesday. I may have painted my reputation into a corner. But by comparison, I was dreading seeing The Karate Kid remake on Wednesday, but it was an honest family blockbuster, and I found myself enjoying it. Preconception does not colour my views. I love to have my mind changed.
Someone on Twitter rudely suggested that I didn’t like Inception because I didn’t understand it. Feel free to patronise me along those lines. I would actually counter that there wasn’t much to understand. I would also point you to Minority Report and Blade Runner, which also run on an inner logic based upon science fiction, but both made sense, perhaps because they were based on novels, whose ideas had already survived scrutiny, and would be scrutinised and maybe sharpened up in translation for the screen.
Over to you, I guess. Nobody’s an oracle.