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Long story short: Inception works

Inception: Rates a B.
Courtesy photo

The biggest blockbuster of the summer is released this weekend, and it’s not even the best movie released this weekend (that would be The Kids Are All Right, my favorite of the year).

Since Inception was 2 ½ hours long, I figure I can write a slightly longer review. There are so many things about this film I’d like to cover. Director Christopher Nolan spent $160 million on this, and you can see every bit of that on screen. It’s surprising the studio let him run with this. After all, it’s not like his expensive Dark Knight. Since that’s a Batman film, it was a safe bet. I enjoyed Nolan’s Dark Knight, but I didn’t care for Insomnia. And I thought Memento (the movie that plays backwards) brilliant. This guy can obviously write and direct interesting stuff. But the king of the $150 million budgets, James Cameron, did a movie called Strange Days which tackles a few of these similar themes (and is better in many ways).

In fact, a lot of the movies I thought about, I liked more than Inception. Dreamscape, with Dennis Quaid, had a better story and great visuals. Dark City, an underrated sci-fi picture with a mumbling Keifer Sutherland, was better than this (there were a few similarities as you watch buildings being constructed in front of your eyes, and confusion with characters that wake up). There’s a little Matrix here, Eternal Sunshine there. A guy next to me said “This is just like Total Recall.” That’s one of the few films I never thought of during this, but… I did think of James Bond many times; especially during a skiing shoot-out.

But as I told a few people, there’s something about seeing shootings and stunts that you know are in a dream, that makes them less exciting than when Bond is dodging bullets and blowing up vehicles. It’s weird logic on my part, because it’s all actors and stuntmen and none of it is real. But when you’re watching a movie and you know it’s the dream/imagination of a character, it doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat the way you’d otherwise be invested in the protagonists safety.

I didn’t care for the casting of this film at all. Leonardo DiCaprio, in the first movie I’ve seen him in where he doesn’t look 14-years-old, does a fine job. My problem with him being cast in this is that it’s virtually the same character he played in Shutter Island, down to dreams of his wife and kids, confusion, anger, and especially – wonderful dreams that quickly become nightmares. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who went from 3rd Rock to the Sun to becoming a great screen presence (I loved him in Brick, The Lookout, and 500 Days of Summer). In this, his character made me think of Keanue Reeves in Matrix. He had slicked back hair and tries to talk in a deep voice that he just doesn’t pull off.

Marion Cotillard, as DiCaprio’s wife, is just beautiful and haunting on screen. She won a well-deserved Oscar playing Edith Piaf a few years ago, and I was happy I didn’t think once about that character. Oh, that is…until Nolan thought it would be clever to play a Piaf song in a pivotal scene. It totally took me out of the film, but it’s something I’m guessing nobody else will be bothered by. (on the subject of music, the films score by Hans Zimmer is excellent)

There’s Juno’s Ellen Page, looking like she’s 12 and not fitting in at all. Dileep Rao is carving a niche for himself in movies. He was a scientist in Avatar, a voodoo expert in Drag Me to Hell, and he’s a scientist that deals with potions in this (it’s helpful when you need a person to stay asleep so you can jump into their dreams). Tom Hardy is great as the master of disguise (he was better in Bronson from last year; how he didn’t get nominated for an Oscar in that is beyond me).

Tom Berenger (side note: where the hell has he been?) is great in a small role, as is Michael Caine. Of course with Caine, spouting off wisdom to the young and troubled DiCaprio, reminds us of his butler character in the Batman films.

So, here’s the premise, since the movie trailers (purposely) don’t tell you much. People can get into dreams and steal secrets from you. DiCaprio is in a bit of a jam and is forced to take a risky job that is nearly impossible. It’s not to steal the dream of a high powered businessman, but to plant a seed in his mind to split up the company. By doing this, he has to get in this guy's dream, and take him to a different level where it’s a dream within a dream. The reason behind this is explained, and don’t believe anyone that tells you you’ll be confused. You won’t be.

With the pesky Page as the new member of the team, she often asks questions that help fill us in on how things are done and what we’re seeing. Although Nolan does films that aren’t very flawed, you’ll obviously find a few things that logically don’t make sense – but I’m willing to let that stuff slide in a sci-fi film.

I get more upset with the little things. DiCaprio calling his wife “Mal” just sounded weird. Oh, and his name – Dom Cobb. It sounds like a corn-flavored champagne. The shots of Tokyo, Morocco, and Canada are beautifully done. I also enjoyed the rules the movie presents for dreams. If you die in a dream, you don’t die in real life (like in Dreamscape). Instead, you wake up.

So when characters are running through a dream trying to get information they need to steal, they don’t want to be killed for that reason. And it’s not just guns that can kill you. If the people in the dream (the projections) start to realize it’s a dream, they end up doing wacky things (like attacking you). You get the usual clichés spit out: “one last job,” “I just wanna return home,” and “assemble your team!” But just as I did with Avatar, I can let some lame dialogue go when I’m being so visually stimulated by what’s on the screen.

And after all, isn’t that what movies are about? There’s a fight scene in a hotel with zero gravity that is a thing of beauty. The guy behind me that hated the movie thought it was stupid and didn’t understand why they were floating. I said, “It’s because they’re in a dream, and don’t you sometimes do that when you dream?” It wasn’t until I got home that I realized, the characters sleeping at that time were in a van that was going off a bridge. This gave them a free fall, which was then immediately incorporated into the dream.

When you think about a movie at home and come up with stuff, that’s a good sign you have a hit on your hands. Of course, I’m beginning to think this is what Nolan loves doing, to get people coming back to see his films multiple times.

I thought the last 15 minutes and the ending were very predictable and didn’t have me on the edge of my seat the way they intended. It’s not nearly as clever as Nolan thinks it is. A woman got offended when I said I would only recommend this to sci-fi fans and men, because most women would be bored. She said she loved it and was planning to see it again.

I still contend, women will enjoy The Kids Are All Right so much more (maybe I need to turn in my man card, because I did, too). Let the husbands/boyfriends go see Inception, and everyone will be happier for it. I’m giving this a B.