About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Whatever else we can say about Inception, it's not a masterpiece. Not even close.

A masterpiece wouldn't be a half hour too long.

In particular, when we get to the scene where somebody's dreaming about On Her Majesty's Secret Service, we just don't need this. We really don't need endless sequences of men in white ski uniforms, very attractive white ski uniforms I'll admit and if I ever take up skiing I want to ski headlong into a tree and die wearing one of these, skiing and skiing and skiing all around Telly Savales's secret mountaintop lair only there aren't as many women in this one. No, we don't need this at all. Did James Bond dream about being married to Teresa? I'm thinking maybe that's the giant secret message of the movie.

Too much like some long never-ending boring action scenes in movies like the 2nd Narnia movie or a Transformers movie, I had no interest in watching all of this gobbleskigook from a character standpoint. There aren't any real characters. They're dreams. They can't die except maybe they can except really they can't. The one thing Inception has going for it over those other movies is that I at least had some intellectual curiosity in what was happening, to see where the direction was going with all of it, and so mostly I stayed awake. Points to Inception.

A masterpiece wouldn't be full of poorly drawn and underwritten characters.

Some people have said Ellen Page was mis-cast. I'm not sure any other actress -- and what actress does anyone have in mind for the role, Miley Cyrus maybe, or Amanda Seyfried -- could really have played the part because there is no part. I kind of like Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He was great in [500] Days of Summer, The Lookout, Stop-Loss. Here, he's acting throughout the entire movie with a facial expression that suggests either he's trying to hold it in or that he's wearing this really really nice suit for good chunks of the movie only he forgot to put on his belt and maybe if he scrunches his face enough it will keep the pants from falling off. Why is he doing this? Well, I'm not sure what I would do if I had to play his role, so why the hell not act like his pants will fall off at any moment.

That being said, there's also some nice acting going on in the movie. Cillian Murphy who has been so good in some things (Red Eye, The Wind That Shakes The Barley), and so bad in some others (The Scarecrow in the Batman movies), is actually quite a delight to watch here. Leonardo DiCaprio has a juicy role and gets it right. Marion Cotillard is very good. I'd have happily seen Michael Caine's role expanded five-fold. All I'm kind of saying is that a masterpiece doesn't have Marion Cotillard giving a performance of grace and subtlety while Joseph Gordon-Levitt is looking for the suspenders he wore in [500] Days of Summer.

Hans Zimmer has this unusual career doing bad music for overblown films with the occasional brilliant score. He's excellent here, not quite as good as Rain Man which has a few hummable things in it, but he's doing some great work here. There's some excellent production design and photography and all kinds of stuff like that, where if the movie had a good budget you can see that it was very well spent on getting good people to do the little things right. Alternating with the ski scenes that I wish hadn't been in the movie at all, we had some scenes set in a hotel where people are fighting as their frame of orientation keeps wanting to change, not unlike what you might see if you read Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings in a few weeks. Those scenes are very good. Ski scenes, I really do think James Bond has done pretty much what you can do with a ski scene.

A masterpiece would have some of the most intense dreidel imagery of any mainstream movie ever made. If you don't know what a dreidel is, find out. Because every time that top went spinning, that's all I was thinking about.

I saw the movie with Peter V. Brett, his French publisher St├ęphane Marsanne, and writer Myke Cole. Myke was seeing it for his second time and likes the movie very much. Peter liked it a little bit more than I but wasn't in love. We exchanged glances at one particularly gibberishy line which tried to explain how they could go deeper by going shallower. I don't have the best read on St├ęphane's reaction. He did say, and I would agree, that Inception is definitely a better movie than The Matrix. Which is kind of saying something.

So yeah, I'm happy to talk about the movie more and be part of the conversation. It is genuinely nice to have a summer movie that we can talk about and think about and muse about. Just don't ask me to say it's a masterpiece, and don't ask me to see it a second time, and don't ask me if that spinning dreidel in the last shot is likely to land on the "n" or the "g."


Elizabeth Moon said...

Two stars for witty & entertaining review

Since you didn't mention galloping horses, clashing swords, or gorgeous outdoor scenery, you also saved me the price of a movie ticket.

Myke said...

Don't forget we have a date to see Centurion, Joshua. That *does* include galloping horses, clashing swords and gorgeous outdoor scenery.

Anonymous said...

Ellen Page's character drove me nuts. Her dialogue was a constant intrusion, a lazy device used to cram all kinds of spare parts into the film. It was particularly jarring in her dialogue with Leo's character. I've come to associate Leo with fabulously subtle portrayals of tumultuous characters, men who are fraying at the edges but don't really show it. This effect is completely ruined by having someone tell what Leo is trying to show, like a play-by-play commentator who doesn't know when to shut up. Her translations were thunky and unnecessary, except when they WERE necessary, in which case there was no plausible explanation for how she leapt to these conclusions.

The ski scene was ridiculous. You're right about it having been done in James Bond -- except it shouldn't have been done there either.

I also found the corporate espionage motive underpinning the action to be thin and boring. They could have done better.

These were the three things that prevented me from enjoying the movie more thoroughly. That said, it was a damn good romp.