Friday, July 23, 2010

The Round-Up#33 (Bumper Edition)

Film Review: Inception: Christopher Nolan's first attempt at a heady summer blockbuster (The Dark Knight not withstanding, since it was based on one of the most popular comic-book characters in the world) is a fascinating filmmaking experiment, which, for the most part, and considering the film's worldwide box-office receipts, has proven successful.

The story, about a group of dream-invaders/thieves who specialize in breaking into a person's dreams and stealing treasured secrets, is trippy Sci-Fi at its best. You've got the wild (and highly improbable) idea of invading dreams and stealing thoughts, the tortured protagonist with a dark secret in his past, and the almost impossible mission (invading the mind of the son of a corporate titan to implant a thought which will determine the future of the energy industry). Nolan's screenplay piles concept on top of concept (much like the three dream levels depicted in the film), giving vague explanations as to how these people actually achieve the process of invading dreams and planting thoughts (a process referred to throughout the film as "inception"), which makes the film's central premise highly implausible and bordering on ludicrous. But this is Christopher Nolan we're talking about, the man who pulled Batman out of the gutter and turned him into a noirish anti-hero living in a nihilistic universe, and made it work (The Dark Knight has become one of the most profitable feature films in history). So, under Nolan's meticulous direction, and despite the aforementioned faults, the film works, on many levels.

This is a film that is so exciting, so breathtaking, both visually and aurally (Hans Zimmer's moody score is magnificent), that one can't help but be swept along by its sheer audacity. To my mind, this is the first film to combine elements of Sci-Fi, mystery, psychological drama, heist movies, and film-noir, and pulls it off! Also, for the most part, Nolan grounds the film in reality, keeping CGI to a minimum; instead, relying on his by now trademark visual style and clever editing techniques to sell the concept and realize his imagery. And for a film whose concept boggles the mind and whose plot is anything but easy to follow, it never lets up and never gives the viewer a chance to lose interest, thanks to the endearing performances by all of the cast and to Nolan's dynamic direction.

What prevents the film from becoming a masterpiece, though, aside from the improbability of its central premise, are two things: Firstly, the film is overly and needlessly complex. While watching the film, you get the feeling that Nolan was so in love with the cleverness of his screenplay that he kept adding more and more layers to its already serpentine structure, to the point that the film begins to wobble under the weight of its own complexity. The film, which is indeed clever (but, arguably, not as clever as Nolan thinks it is), could have been less complex in terms of structure and nothing would have been lost in terms of drama and plot.

Secondly, the film is not very effective dramatically. Although all of the film's characters are endearing and brought to life wonderfully by a game cast (especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a scene-stealing Ken Watanabe), none of them, with the exception of Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Cobb, are fully fleshed out. As we get deeper and deeper into the story, we realize that these characters are mostly fodder for Cobb's journey, which is somewhat understandable, considering that he's the film's protagonist and the team leader. But since all of the film's characters, including DiCaprio's, are more or less criminals, it would have been more effective for us to get to know them better in order to get more attached to them.

But, in the end, this is a fantastic film, daring in its complexity, and a formalist triumph. Do yourself a favour, avoid most of the dreck (both foreign and local) being released in cinemas this summer, and go watch this clever feat of the imagination.

Book Review: Thriller. Edited by James Patterson: The phrase "Something for everybody" truly applies to this wonderful collection of thrilling short stories, chosen by James Patterson. Although Patterson has his fans, he also has his detractors (people who don't like his simplistic style and super-short chapters); but even those grumpy folks don't need to worry, as this is a fantastic collection of tales that is sure to please fans of the genre. Although highlights are plenty, stand-outs especially worth mentioning are: Greg Hurwitz's Dirty Weather, a dark and gripping crime story with a bleak ending; J.A. Konrath's Epitaph, a superb revenge tale that's violent, nasty and strangely moving; Chris Mooney's Falling, a clever tale about a hunt for a rogue FBI agent; James Rollins's Kowalski's in love, a humorous, fast-paced adventure tale with a likeable, if not too bright, protagonist; M.J. Rose and John Lescroart's The Portal, a compelling and dark psychological thriller about child abuse; F. Paul Wilson's action-packed and suspenseful Incident At Duane's, featuring his immensely popular Repairman Jack character; and the haunting closer, Gone Fishing, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, a terrifying tale about a ruthless killer and an ancient dagger stolen from a museum.

So, if you're looking for a collection of astounding short stories that span a range of genres with the only thing in common between them is that they are all thrilling, look no further than this anthology, one of the best I've ever come across. Unmissable.

Double Extra! Kingdom Hospital/The Journals Of Eleanor Druse: This edition's Extra! selections are the TV series Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital and its companion "non-fiction" book, The Journals Of Eleanor Druse (which, in actuality, was penned by Richard Dooling). Kingdom Hospital, which only ran for a single, 13-episode season, was mostly written by King himself, and so features the best and worst of later King: Terrifying set-pieces, appealing characters, a dragging pace, and cringe-worthy moments of exposition. But the series is a remake of Lars Von Trier's superior TV series Riget, and so retains and embellishes upon some of best of that show, which makes for some entertaining, if not stellar, TV viewing. On the plus side, the series is very well-produced, the effects are good, and the finale exciting. More effective is the companion book, The Journals Of Eleanor Druse, which is presented as the journals of one of the TV series' main characters, the elderly psychic Eleanor Druse, and which adds some interesting aspects to the show's mythology. Taken together, the TV series and book provide plenty of scary entertainment.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the film review, I intend to watch it next Sunday - and I love James Patterson, and I have no doubt that his chosen collection are unique will look for it in Bookstore.