Saturday, August 20, 2011

Diversion 2.0 Thirty Day Movie Challenge -- Day 29

Day 29 – The Last Movie You Watched

We’ve covered a good deal of movies over the last twenty-eight days, with numerous genres and associated memories. Those entries were selective, but this one is not: what was the most recent movie that you (read “I”) watched, no faking allowed? The last movie I saw in theaters was Captain America: The First Avenger, but I’ve watched a few Blu-rays since then, so I’ll opt for one of those instead.

Inception (2010)

Like many nerdy folk last year, I was interested in checking out the hype surrounding Christopher Nolan’s post-Dark Knight Big Deal Project. Inception was supposed to turn the world upside-down, and tweak your brain from hell to breakfast with its deep treatise on dream philosophy and oodles of mind-bending visual effects. What we got instead was a really damn good caper movie, akin to Ocean’s Eleven, but with The Mirage swapped out for The Animus. It wasn’t, contrary to what was promised on teh interwebz, cinema’s second-coming of Christ, but that didn’t bug me too much, because I first saw it on Blu-ray, at a comfortable distance from all of the promises and expectations surrounding it. I love heist movies, and Inception is one hell of a heist movie.
The plot is surprisingly straight-forward: in order to get home to his estranged family, Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DeCaprio) must pull One Last Job for businessman Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe). Cobb wastes no time in assembling a team for the job, including pointman and researcher Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), grifter Eames (Tom Hardy), driver Yusef (Dileep Rao), and audience-proxy Ariadne (Ellen Paige).
Or, at least, these would be their roles in a traditional caper picture. Cobb specializes in a very unique sort of breaking and entering: he enters peoples’ dreams while they sleep and steal their corporate secrets. Mr. Saito’s job is for Cobb to break into the thoughts of one of his business rivals and plant a thought, rather than filch one. Desperately tricky, but not impossible, and the rest of the film is spent planning the job and then pulling it off.

For all out its touted mind-screwery, Inception is a straight, if well-executed, heist pic.
Most of what I love about Inception comes from what I love about heist pictures in general. First, we are introduced to whatever it is we’re supposed to rob, which is invariably a behemoth of impenetrable security. Then, we’re introduced to the players, one at a time, so as to show off their individual prowess at whatever they’re skilled with. Last, we’re given the job itself, where our team of misfits work together in concert to pull off the caper. Inception takes this structure and sets it against a richly-imagined sci-fi backdrop, but most of the classic heist elements are here, and I’m ever-so-grateful for them.
Where Inception gets its own unique flavor is in its imagination of how dreams work. Nolan does a great job of introducing rules, explaining them, and then altering them in short succession, and it’s fun to hear about the fiction and watch it being bent before our eyes. It’s not as philosophical or deep as the hype may have lead on, but it is well-realized, and I appreciate how Nolan pushes the boundaries of his own concepts.
But, yeah, definitely still some mind-screwery going on here.
A few more things. Nolan has been criticized in some circles for his scripts’ ham-handed usage of irony and foreshadowing, but perhaps he doesn’t do it as smugly as he could, because I like the pulpy, “obvious call-back” nature that some of the lines possess (“You’re waiting for a train…”; “An old man, filled with bitterness and regret;” or, my most recent favorite from The Dark Knight: “You’ve known Rachael her whole life?” “Oh, not yet, sir.” GUESS WHAT YOU BLOODY WILL HAVE BY THE END OF ACT II!!!). Also, I’ve gone quite a ways without discussing Cobb’s struggle with his personal demons, which is a major plot point and affects the film in no small way. The simple truth is that I don’t really care that much for it, or at least as much as I like watching him and his team execute their plan as a well-oiled machine. Lastly, I do enjoy Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-nominated score, even if it does largely consist of BRRAAAAHHHHHMMMM. BRRAAAAHHHHHMMMM, or variations of that motif.
My favorite part about Inception? I got it for a steal! The Blu-ray was like $14 on Amazon a couple months ago, and I plundered the s@$# out of it, along with a copy of Top Gun that I bought with it, as an excuse to use Super Saver Shipping. Inception is a fine, imaginative heist movie, and its solid performances, robust imagination, and stellar execution make it one of my favorite films of last year.

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