OVER & UNDERRATED

(Excuse the phone cam quality)

This isn’t some contrary rant as a spoilsport reaction to the popularity of ‘Inception’ — the film is, as summer blockbusters go, excellent. Writing as someone who entered ‘The Matrix’ expecting pioneering ultraviolence and got some paranoid hacker wank-fantasy, where that failed to inspire, ‘Inception’s psyche-invasion, heist-flick approach succeeded. It’s not even that complicated. If stupid people shout “IT’S COMPLICATED” enough, a film will be deemed complex. Self-fulfilling idiocy. You could take a couple of toilet breaks and still be in the loop. Looking at the incessant speculation – possibly instigated by tiresome individuals jonesing for the thankfully defunct ‘Lost’, you’d be mistaken for thinking that you’d missed a film so complicated that you’d need to transplant Kissinger’s brain to yours, and view it 900 times — never blinking — for even the mildest comprehension. This isn’t the case. A sub-section of viewers, pleased that they’ve comprehended something less linear than the latest Dan Brown don’t want to hear this, but it’s true. I have trouble watching films in the knowledge that they’ll twist and turn.

The first time I watched ‘Chinatown’ in the knowledge that there was some kind of unspoken plot curveball, I choked. Sat gawping at the TV with a vinegar face of total concentration, I forgot to enjoy the film. Somehow, that total concentration was misplaced, and I got lost in what was a very linear, albeit intelligent, piece of screenwriting. What would the Twitterati have made of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’? Thank god that only Odeo employees could use Twitter on ‘The Prestige’s release. Where were these head scratchers, repeat viewers and talkback debaters for Christopher Smith’s timelooping, mythology-riffing ‘Triangle’ and the headache-inducing ‘Timecrimes’? How would they fare with ‘Primer’? That’s when I really needed assistance. ‘Inception’ was a smarter version of the nightmare-inducing ’80s trash classic ‘Dreamscape’ with shades of ‘Total Recall’ too. I’m a fan of Nolan’s clinical approach to movie-making, the Michael Caine as-a-wise-old-man re-appearances and cityscapes  giving me the celluloid equivalent of three courses, coffee and a foil-wrapped mint to pocket. The use of great actors in Channel 5 limbo like Eric Roberts and Tom Berenger is appreciated too, but the or was it? nature of the finale felt a little lazy after the Rubik’s Magic storytelling that preceded. Maybe it’s just me.

The much-debated Kubrick comparisons seem a little unfair. Christopher Nolan is an outstanding genre director who can fulfill lofty ambitions in an age of mediocrity. His only stumble has been the perfectly acceptable (and certainly superior to the usual Hollywood hack jobs of foreign-language masterpieces) ‘Insomnia’ remake. He seemed lost in the simplicity of an out-and-out imitation. He hasn’t worked the angles like Kubrick did, with period pieces, sci-fi, war, satire and horror. However, it’s worth remembering that while Kubrick is, in my humble opinion,  the greatest director of all time for his coldness — and Nolan to some degree echoes that frost – and his perfectionist streak (I defy you to find a shot in ‘Barry Lyndon’ that isn’t utterly perfect), he was a genius adapter. ‘Inception’ is Nolan’s inaugural writing solo mission, and Kubrick’s only non-adaptation excursions were pulpy too, with the brilliant ‘The Killing’ and the lesser ‘Killer’s Kiss’. Though that aforementioned or was it? still feels like a pulled-punch — a mathematician playing at abstraction — compared to Keir Dullea going Beyond the Infinite with a more convincing level of ambiguity.

It’s a shame that the internet’s inclination to catapult something to classic status in hours (witness ‘Inception’ standing tall above ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Godfather: Part II’) to necessitate a mild backlash of sorts. Yes, naturally it is instantly overrated, but it’s very good. There’s little middle-ground when it comes to critique. One group hyperventilate at the brilliance they’ve just seen while the others slate it with unnecessary brutality, stacking paragraph after paragraph with allegations of soulless filmmaking, cloth-eared dialogue and re-appropriated ideas. In 2010 you can become a cult film in a week and a classic in a day. That extreme treatment —which is applicable to clothing, music or literature too — and immediate access to multiple voices, means extreme reactions to output. It’s becoming tiresome.

If we have to persist with the pointless “new Kubrick” headhunting, Darren Aronofsky warrants some comparisons, traveling from a dystopian headache to rival dancing-girls in little more than a decade. ‘The Fountain’ is deeply underrated — with its multi-layered narrative and what some have decried as a concluding copout (remind you of anything?), it deserved further attention. My personal Nolan pick is still ‘The Prestige’, where the twist feels more like the titular payoff rather than a cheap trick. Casting David Bowie as Tesla gives the film an air of barmy ’80s casting too.

The above rant was really just a padding to look at Christopher Nolan’s dedication to clean title cards. In an era when they’re either excised or lurid CGI exercises in showboating, just as John Carpenter kept it clean but appropriately gothic in Albertus MT and Stan was prone to a spot of Futura Extra Bold, Nolan is prone to similar simplicity creating a trademark of sorts with matter-of-fact tracking time after time. That indicates that the ensuing film will be no laughing matter. In earlier examples, serifs play a part, but recently, they’ve taken on an agelessness that refuses to give away the film’s production year. It’s a statement-of-intent regarding the clinical filmmaking ahead, and somehow, those lapses into spaces and serifs manage to look classy rather than Next’s old logo, or the signage on one of the preposterous eateries Patrick Bateman frequents. That in itself is quite an achievement. The ‘Inception’ trailer seems to go a little wilder with the fonts, letting Gotham construct itself.

0 thoughts on “OVER & UNDERRATED

  1. Nailed it again. Even though ‘Prestige’ had a ‘ duh… ok, twist’ it was worth the journey. Aronofsky is good but seems trite on repeat viewings ‘Phi’ & ‘Requem’ are prime examples. Kubrick was Da Vinci- there will be never be another… Great post.

  2. I did want more from Inception. It was there, you know there was more. Nolan had to have pushed the concepts further before editing down. I wish we could have explored it full tilt. 2001 anyone?

    The main sensation after the movie was hope. Yeah it’s the cliche of 08 and may be stale in 2010 but I do hope this movie smacks the studios back onto some track that creates better cinema. And a great hope that Nolan will allowed to step up in his next foray.

    And how about Hans Zimmer? Made some of the scenes for me.

    Great segue to Aronofsky! The Fountain was brilliant.
    I partially disagree with Acyde, Phi was still solid on second viewing. I do agree with ya on Requem tho.

    BTW I can’t stand comparisons to other directors… let the guys work speak for itself… kinda like the whole fuckin, “He’s the next Jordan,” crap… ugh.

  3. I’m with you on the Zimmer score. Gave me goosebumps. I like the fact he uses Hans as a frequent collaborator like Darren uses Clint Mansell. The darkest day for film themes was the influx of bad dance music as scores. The few exceptions include Moby (of all people) at the end of Heat and the fact Daft Punk seem to be getting all John Carpenter on the new Tron OST.

    The Fountain is a brave, beautiful and misunderstood film, I wish more people gave it a chance. Cultdom beckons.