Sunday, 22 August 2010

Dream on

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep. But, wait; don’t fall asleep too soon, or if you do fall asleep take out plenty of dream insurance; otherwise Cobb and his team might invade your mind and take you in directions you’d rather not go.

What on earth am I on about, you wonder, and who on earth is Cobb? I’m on about Inception, the summer ‘blockbuster’ (horrid word) directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo di Caprio as Dom Cobb, an engineer of dreams. I like Leonardo as an actor, I have ever since Titanic, but if I say to you that he still seems to be on Shutter Island in this movie then you have a key both to his performance and my appreciation. So read no further; you’ve been warned!

I’m not going to say too much about the actual content of the movie, in fact I’m not going to say anything at all other than it’s a sci-fi thriller full of all sorts of spectacular effects as we are taken through dreams within dreams within dreams, almost as if an onion is being peeled away layer by layer. Nolan, clearly a man with a vivid and creative imagination, was obviously able to command the big bucks because the dream magic is lavish: I particularly liked the streets of Paris turning in on themselves.

Inception has been thrilling the masses in the multiplexes across the globe. That’s not at all surprising really, because it’s a super double-cheeseburger with all the trimmings, quite technically brilliant at points. The reviews have been mostly rave, for once the critics broadly in tune the audiences. If you like technical wizardry, if you like imaginative playfulness, if you like a thrill every half-minute Inception is your movie. If you like grown-up films, adult films with a serious and believable plot, with serious and believable characters, active rather than hyperactive, then it is not. It’s most assuredly not my movie.

Yes, I was impressed by parts - once I managed to get my head round what was going on - but in the end, as we are taken to the heart of the mystery, the heart of the dream labyrinth, as that safe is opened and that message given what immediately came to mind was two simple questions: “Is that it?”, “Is that what all this hyperactive fuss has been about?” Sorry, I’m being more than usually cryptic; if you’ve seen it you will know what I’m on about: I’m on about paper windmills!

I’m really thinking of giving up altogether on Anglo-Saxon film makers, giving up on movies that are full of sound and fury signifying nothing, with the honourable exception of those made by the superlative Clint Eastwood. The trouble is I saw Gainsbourg before Inception, a French movie full of drama signifying something, signifying that it had an intelligent and interesting story-line, signifying that this was an adult movie for adults, not perpetual teenagers. Not waving but dreaming, that’s Inception, overwrought, overdone and far too pompously self-important.


  1. Yes, I quite agree. The Anglo-Saxon film industry has with a few exceptions been rather barren since round about the early 1970s. Like the Norman I see the cinemas foaming with blood--and I am not interested. The French have been far better in the years since. Time to rekindle the ethos of Sir David Lean and Sir Carol Reed, I should think.

  2. I remember reading Aristotle's Poetics and being amused that he was criticizing plays for relying too much on special effects rather than ideas, plot, character etc. Apparently they had similar problems 2300 (or whatever) years ago to what we face now. I agree with you on modern films - and Clint Eastwood.

  3. Adam, I tend to be a bit up and down; sometimes I can go for mindless escapism. I love horror movies, particularly those directed by Sam Rami.

  4. Mark, really? How wonderful! I must check the reference for future use.

  5. Sadly, I agree, and have more or less done exactly that. (Even if it means I must resign myself to now living a good 40 miles from any cinema that might show anything I particularly wish to see, bah!).

    What makes the matter more depressing is that much of what remains of Anglophone cinema, once the surface-explosions and special-effects never-mind-the-characterization-or-plot stuff is put to one side, is spoiled by the often rather facile and/or excessively sentimentalized (I allude with the latter adjective particularly to Mike Leigh) heavy-handed leftist political polemic that, be it implicitly or explicitly, accompanies and overwhelms the more subtle arts of film-making. The last great British film I saw was, I think, "Red Road", directed by Andrea Arnold (the follow up "Fish Tank" was also good, but with a couple of obvious plot flaws.)

    Aki Kaurismaki I think remains my favourite contemporary director.

    Though I don't quite get the whole Dogme thing (the principles behind it seem too restrictive and, well, dogmatic, in the wrong way), quite a few of the best films I've seen over the last decade have been from Nordic or Scandinavian lands. Accompanied with a bit of Finnish tango what more could one ask for, as regards both complexity and subtle observation? Though the French do provide, too...

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  7. Hello Ana,

    I agree the film was not superb but ok. I'm afraid you are serious about the dull, boring to death (yuk, boo etc) French movies.

    I can watch junk "Anglo_saxon" movies (if they contain action) for three days non-stop. :)

  8. For me, the golden epoch of Anglo-Saxon films as you delightfully call them was roundabout 1939-1970. It was the age of J. Arthur Rank productions, of directors Sir Carol Reed, Sir David Lean, Welles, Hitchcock, Powell and Pressburger and of course the brilliant writing of Graham Green and Nowell Coward. I don't know what's gone wrong in the years since.
    The French still know how to make a film that's subtle, manifold and beautiful...few others do.
    Simon Heffer has written quite a lot on this subject--rather well too, in his inimitable, curmudgeonly way.

  9. Dominic, Mike Leigh deserves an Oscar for tedium.

  10. Mr Lonely I shall, then perhaps you won't be so lonely. :-)

  11. Hey, Levent! I didn't know you had a blog. I'll come and leave a comment.

  12. Adam, I have a piece on The Third Man which I'm just about to post.

  13. Ah, a bit of good news for a change...bravo

  14. i am big fan of mystery, but my english listening skill is poor (especially when i listen something i am not so interested). by reading so many great reviews on this movie, plus i found michael caine was in it, i decided to go. i sat about more than half hour in the theatre, my legs were frozen due to my body's "malfunction" to air condition, plus i found i had completely no idea of what's going on, so i left. i had been blaming my poor english understanding and my malfunctioning body, now i believe my "chinglish" ears and malfunctioning body actually did me something good.
    thanks ana. i am with you on this. your taste in movie is great (wish i had some better word than "great". i am working on it:-))!

  15. Yunn yi, it was such a small part, though. I don't blame you for leaving; it took me close on an hour to work out what was going on!

  16. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time,
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    (William Shakespeare. Macbeth).