Sunday, July 25, 2010

I Guess I'm Dumb

It’s rare when Mrs. Jaybee can convince me to go out to an actual movie. I usually plead “we’ll see it when it comes out on DVD” and take a pass.  And when she succeeds, she’s usually sorry.  Today was no exception.

She’d gone to see “Inception” last week, but the theater’s sound and picture went on the fritz near the end, so she wasn’t even sure she got the whole thing.  We found it playing nearby in IMAX and she asked if I was interested.  Having nothing better to do, and having dragged her to MoMA the day before, I figured I owed her, and decided to go.

But it was a hot day filled with the Jaybees bickering.  By the time we got there and the previews started I was already talking back to the screen.  (“Julia Roberts finding fulfillment?  Not with my twelve bucks.”)  Then, during the opening scene, a couple who had just arrived (You’re familiar with them, I’m sure.) simply had to sit in our row.  But have a chat first.

So it’s possible that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for fully appreciate the movie...

First, I must say that “Inception” is a good movie.  Not great.  But good.  However, Mrs. Jaybee is having none of this.  I must explain myself:

The trouble with “Inception” is that director Christopher Nolan confuses quantity with quality.  He keeps throwing things at you, and while it’s admirable to some extent, it’s mostly information and not ideas, so after a while, I can’t help but think enough already.  Oh, there are a few ideas here, but before you get a chance to really savor them, he’s off piling on more information.  I guess he’s just smarter than me. 

It’s one of those rare times when a book or a miniseries would have served the material better.  If the ideas are interesting enough, you can enjoy them as the information steadily comes at you.  I guess Christopher Nolan wanted to pack the movie with enough to make it hold up to multiple viewings.  Yet, this is where “Inception” fails its most important test.  While watching a movie, I sometimes ask myself if I’d ever want to see it again.  In other words, am I enjoying this movie or just enduring it?  I’m afraid that in this case, it was the latter.  So those multiple viewings may not ever happen.

I have to admit that I temporarily felt the same way about “The Dark Knight”.  But that was only because the material was so dark that it could be hard to take.  And once it came to TV and I could enjoy Heath Ledger’s performance again, I found that I could, and in fact had to, watch it all the way through.  Sadly, there are no comparable performances in “Inception”.

Which brings me to Leo.  I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of seeing him play the haunted husband/father.  It reminds me too much of the devoted dad Robin Williams loved to play (“Mrs. Doubtfire”, “The World According to Garp”, etc.).  For once I’d like to see him play an arrogant jerk who’s more or less got it together.  I’m tired of liking him.  I’d like to dislike him some time.

Ellen Page plays the brilliant young student who nonetheless ends up spending most of her time standing around with her mouth open wondering what’s going on.  (Just kidding.  That was me.)  Actually she’s really sharp and has a crucial role.  But she does end up being Juno without the sense of humor.

I also have to add (possible spoiler alert!) that the morality of the mission is hardly ever questioned, even though it’s point is to help one corporation gain a competitive advantage over another.  Curiously amoral.

In its attempt to overwhelm the viewer’s resistance with information overload it reminded me of nothing so much as an episode of “Murder She Wrote”.  You remember that show, don’t you?  They always made sure to have a dozen guest stars as possible suspects.   And enough weapons, rooms and motivations to put Clue to shame.  Did you EVER, EVEN ONCE, figure out who the murderer was?  Of course not.  And even if you somehow guessed the murderer, did you even understand Jessica Fletcher’s explanation at the end?  Weren’t you just too freaking bored and exhausted to care?

A great movie can give you a limited amount of information to work with.  But if it’s engaging enough, it will fully occupy you not only during the initial viewing, but many more times as well.   In the interest of full disclosure, I must add how much fun it was to watch “Memento” - an earlier Christopher Nolan film - backwards the second time around, just to make sure I knew what the hell happened.  Why?  Because I cared about the characters.

As for me and Mrs. Jaybee, we continued our bickering after the movie.  What really pissed her off was that, as we were leaving the theater and she asked what I thought the ending meant, my response was “I don’t care.”  I wasn’t trying to be nasty (I swear, honey).  I really meant it.  Amidst all the noise and information, I didn’t feel anything.

“Inception” has some good ideas that it proceeds to endlessly complicate.  That’s not inspiration.  That’s math.

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