Inception (2010)

inception_2010_theatrical_posterGiven Christopher Nolan’s solid treatment of The Dark Knight, one might think that his artistic intent could translate into something bold and original. That certainly seems to have been the intention behind Inception, and the mainstream critics ate up the hype even as they were building it up. Of course, I’m always sceptical of films that got a lot of hype. Even when I was 16 and Inception was new, I got the feeling that they were overselling it, and watching the film again I felt I was right. Overhyped, overrated, and astoundingly pretentious, Inception is a textbook example of a film that got a lot of hype when it was new, did well in the box office, but when the hype was over nobody cared, probably because Inception wasn’t very good in the first place.

The story is perhaps the most immediate gripe I have with the film, but before I go into why, I’ll try and explain it. The premise revolves around a Dominick Cobb, a professional thief who steals people’s information by infiltrating their dreams (the film tries to explain it, but does a poor job of it). His job involves projecting himself into people’s minds, and by doing so, he can obtain information that even the most skilled computer hackers can’t. When Cobb fails an assignment, he is offered the chance to have his criminal history erased as payment for a task that seems impossible – planting a new idea into a target’s mind. Cobb and his crew have everything they need to carry out the task, but the only thing complicating matters is a projection of Cobb’s dead wife, emerging from his subconscious.

That’s about a simple as I can describe a plot as insanely muddled as Inception’s plot is. I remembering hearing that the film’s plot is so complicated that you can’t even take a bathroom break if you want to understand what’s going on. I’m sure that sounds exaggerated, but the film certainly has an extremely complicated plot. It’s the kind of film that tries to sound intelligent, but just because the premise of a film is ludicrously complicated doesn’t make a film intelligent. In fact, much of the film’s 148-minute length is spent explaining the film. I would argue that any film that has to spend much of its runtime explaining itself is hardly intelligent. To be fair, I think the film could have implemented its ideas well had Christopher Nolan stuck with his plan to make it as a horror film about dream thieves. The film’s cerebral ideas find themselves wasted in a heist film, and a very pretentious one too.

Believe it or not, the film’s ensemble cast isn’t that effective. The performances weren’t bad, but I wasn’t very impressed, mainly because I see it as typical Hollywood overacting. Leonardo diCaprio is perhaps the most obvious example. Throughout his career diCaprio has depended his looks for success, and I’m pretty sure the same applies here because diCaprio isn’t a very convincing actor. Maybe I’m just too much of a demanding viewer, or more likely, I simply don’t like him, but whatever the reason, I can’t find myself getting invested in his character, and maybe that’s because his character was never really likeable in the first place.

Of course, the film did have incredibly high production values on its side, and with its massive $160 million budget that’s understandable, but I find that the film looks and sounds inescapably hollow. Perhaps the only part of the film most people got (and the most heavily promoted scene) was the scene where part of a road folds. It is a rather impressive display of CGI, but the problem is that most of the film feels inorganic, perhaps because the film is loaded with CGI. Even some of the fight scenes were done with CGI. It almost feels like a glossier version of The Matrix, but loaded with explanations that make no sense no matter how hard Leonardo diCaprio tries to convince you of it.

Though not a completely terrible film, Inception is what happens when film directors get too full of themselves. They lose grasp of what makes sense on screen and the resulting film is very big, bloated and pompous. Of course, the more popular a director becomes, the more mainstream that director’s work becomes, and clearly Inception was Nolan’s attempt at a boldly avant-garde thriller film, but it winds up being such a painfully mainstream Hollywood film that its a mirror image of the very character of Hollywood, with its head stuck firmly up in the clouds.

  • Score: 56%
  • Grade: D

I Am (2010)

I_Am_documentary_2011_PosterAlthough there is something to be said about Tom Shadyac’s earnest conviction, he’s no better a director when he’s making documentaries than he is making lowbrow comedy films. The pretentiously titled “I Am” is little more than a hopeless vanity film masquerading as activism, and the main problem is that it dabbles in dubious social and scientific ideas without going the extra mile to prove them logically. I actually researched and contemplated the film’s ideas, and found them to be utter nonsense. After all, if all it took to fix the world was for us to love each other unconditionally, then why is the world still troubled despite the innate capability of unconditional love in human beings?

Humans are not without love, and yet there is still violence, greed, and ignorance plaguing mankind. I wonder if the director has an answer for that beyond the jaded hippie slogans that I’ve come to expect from a clearly privileged Hollywood director. The film also goes out of its way to demonize competition and self-interest, even though competition and self-interest are just as natural and integral to human existence as love and co-operation. In fact, the film’s director spent so much time preaching about love and co-operation that he forgot about the fact that competition and self-interest have always been the driving forces of human progress. If someone didn’t decide they wanted something better than what we already have, then modern society, along with everything we take for granted, would simply not exist. If that wasn’t a bitter enough pill to swallow, the film goes through contortions to preach that we as humans are actually an interconnected whole, using dubious science and questionable logic to reinforce what is ultimately a tired, unproven dogma that is typical of so many progressive Hollywood morons.

To be fair, the film does ask some fine questions that are worthy of consideration and perhaps debate, but why on Earth should I trust them with the director of “Bruce Almighty” and “The Nutty Professor”? Furthermore, however honest the director is trying to be, how can I trust someone who clearly went for the rosiest sounding conclusion, and didn’t bother researching his ideas properly? Worse still, he failed to provide a rational counterargument, choosing instead to appropriate any quote, interview, or slick film-making technique to validate his argument. Consequently, what we’re left with is a sentimental assemblage of stock footage and weapons-grade hogwash, and in general Tom Shadyac ends up sounding more like Robert Tilton on Ritalin, and I say that because the clearly proselytizing agenda of the film is no different to that of the right-wing evangelical Christians.

That in itself is something I find ironic because the film goes on and on about the evils of a consumerist society in such a stereotypically heavy-handed left-wing manner, but it ultimately wallows in the same narrative that created the kind of world that, supposedly, is the problem to begin with. It’s too bad that Mr. Shadyac doesn’t realize that the world is far more complex and sophisticated than such buzzwords as “love” and “greed”. Had he researched his ideas properly and looked for both sides of his central argument, this could have been a genuinely thought-provoking examination of the human condition, perhaps with the potential to spark real debate. Instead, we have a barely intelligent, ham-fisted sermon orated by someone who ultimately comes across as yet another progressive demagogue.

  • Score: 35%
  • Grade: E