Friday, December 10, 2010

No Ugly Duckling: a review of Black Swan

Black Swan
Dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2010

Stunning and intense psychological thriller to keep you on your toes.

Innocent, hard-working Nina (Natalie Portman) finally gets the coveted lead role in her ballet company's production of Swan Lake. But an over-attentive stage mother, a sexy new rival and her own insecurities make her fragile in the face of potential success. Can she pull it together and deliver both the light and dark sides of her role, or will she crack under all the pressure? And is charismatic Lily (Mila Kunis) trying to dethrone Nina as the newly appointed Swan Queen?

Natalie Portman is extraordinary, flawless. She perfectly embodies a range of characteristics, sometimes in intricate combinations. Her innocence makes her both unnerving and easy to root for. The way her lack of assertiveness and anxiety stifle her, hold her back, is palpable in every scene. You feel her frustration, how hard she tries, her desire to be perfect. For this reason, the movie transcends the grueling world of ballet and is relatable to any endeavor where the harder someone tries, the further they seem from where they want to be.

Visually, Black Swan is beautiful, graceful and sometimes jarring. I loved that, for the most part, the terrifying moments are brief — a flash, a shadow, a look — and there are only a few full-fledged scary scenes. This upped the intensity for me, as I found myself paying extra close attention (lest I miss something telling).

Here's the deal: I enjoyed Black Swan, but, as Lily says about the ballet itself at one point: "It's not for everyone."

And now, for something a little different. Things Black Swan made me want/not want to do:

Made me want to
  • Eat grapefruit
  • Get in shape
  • Go to a rave
  • Do my hair in a bun
  • Wear a tutu (out in public, like my friend does sometimes)
  • Wear intense eye makeup 
  • Take a dance class 
  • Be more polished (and dainty...but not too dainty, or polished)
  • See other movies by Darren Aronofsky (except The Fountain, good lord!)

Made me not want to
  • Hang out with ballet dancers
  • Go to the ballet
  • Be in deserted performance halls after the lights go out
  • Pull at hangnails ever again

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bounty from Beantown

The Town
Dir: Ben Affleck, 2010

Gripping, gritty and really well-done.

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is the brains behind a band of bank and armored truck robbers. When one of their jobs gets hairy, they take assistant bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage. After they let her go, Doug tries to do damage control by finding out what Claire saw/heard, but he ends up falling for her instead. Doug wants out of the crime life, Charlestown and everything he's ever known and Claire's the perfect impetus. Meanwhile, ruthless FBI guy Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is closing in on the Townies and local thugs are pressuring Doug to stay shady.

The Town is intense, excellently paced and with great breaks of humor between the heart-in-throat moments and shootouts. The two-plus hours are packed with suspense, warmth, and great lines. It's smart. Sometimes sexy. Full of solid acting from everyone involved, especially Jeremy Renner, who plays Doug's hard ex-con best friend Jim. Hamm and Hall don't disappoint and Affleck delivers both behind and in front of the camera.

It's a great movie to see if you want internal conflicts. Doug and his friends are criminals. And not like the caper-perps of the Ocean's flicks, either. They are bad bad men; they kill people without remorse. This isn't sugar-coated or romanticized. On the other hand, Agent Frawley is a nasty sonuvabitch who doesn't care who he has to hurt or manipulate to reach his endgame. And then — because you're multi-armed like a Hindu god — there's also the fact that Affleck is so affable, the motherless, washed-up Doug so relatable, that you at least want a happy ending for him. Oh, and who wants to root against love? As the movie unfolds, you also see that Jim, despite being fairly despicable, is far more honorable than anyone on the other side of the law.

Maybe this is premature, but Affleck might be to Boston's underbelly what Kevin Smith was to Central Jersey slackerdom.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Like Sunday Morning

Easy A
Dir: Will Gluck, 2010

Smart and charming, just like its stars.

Snarky and savvy high school nobody Olive (Emma Stone) tells her best friend a big fat lie in the little girls' room and before she knows it, the whole school's gabbing about how she lost her virginity. Olive, being the kind-hearted and socially responsible girl she is, decides to use her newfound popularity for good rather than evil. To this end, she begins pretending to pitch to — and sometimes have her bases rounded by — a slew of tormented outcasts and unknowns, for sometimes measly fees paid in gift cards. What could go wrong? Seriously? A lot!

Easy A isn't a gut-buster, but it's a consistently good ride. It supplies plenty of snappy dialogue and winning characters to woo thoughtful teens and grown folks alike. Take Olive, who proves that a girl can be brainy without being socially awkward, sexy without being slutty and confident without being popular. Or look at Olive's unconventional, unwaveringly supportive and still-sexy parents, played by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson, and her crush Todd (Penn Badgley), a hot boy who's unafraid to look silly and sees through the same ol' h.s BS. (By the way, is it wrong that I found both Badgley and Tucci-in-the-tight-shirts a little lust-worthy?)

Another great thing about Easy A is that it's simultaneously pop and "high" culture literate. Discussions of The Scarlet Letter (both novel and horrid Demi Moore film "adaptation") have a natural place alongside homages to Say Anything and other 80s movies. Also, it doesn't go for cheap laughs and calls up cliches only to tear them down.

It's nice to think that all you need to survive a (stereo)typical high school is a good head on your shoulders and a handful of people who have your back. It's also kinda true. More truth? OK, here you go: Easy A isn't as spectacular as I thought it'd be, but it's very much worth watching.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Rom-Com for Grownups

Going the Distance
Dir: Nanette Burstein

Honest and hilarious.

Garrett (Justin Long) and Erin (Drew Barrymore) start dating just before she moves back clear across the country to finish up grad school. So, they decide to have a long distance relationship. There's much hilarity both before and after this point.

Here are some of the reasons Going the Distance is great:
  • Real, sharp dialogue. The characters sound like actual people. They have conversations about love, sex and those burning questions on some of our minds (Why are there no baby pigeons in New York?) and interact in ways that ring true. 
  • Terrific supporting cast. Charlie Day, in particular, delivers tons of laughs as Dan, Garrett's hookup DJing, open-door-crapping roommate. Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate and Jim Gaffigan also bring the funny.  
  • Erin. She's a profane, scrappy, ballsy, 30something woman who's not afraid to get in people's faces and tells it like it is. It's not an act, it's not a defense mechanism that melts away when she finds true love, it's who she is. She's a very atypical rom-com protagonist and makes the movie refreshing. 
  • Honesty. Long distance relationships suck. Sure, here, they lead to interesting scenarios and audience enjoyment, but Going the Distance also does a good job of highlighting the pain and frustration Erin and Garrett feel being apart.
  • Brilliant homages to Tom Cruise and Top Gun.
  • It's about regular Joes and Janes. Garrett and Erin aren't rich, don't drink expensive wine or go to super fancy restaurants. She's a poor grad student living with her sister and he's a mid-level music industry nobody, who hates his job. They can't see each other more often because flights are too expensive. That's a real conflict many of us know all too well, and it helps us identify with these characters.
Going the Distance isn't the most romantic, heart-melting of movies. Instead, it's a movie that remembers to put the "comedy" in "romantic comedy." The MO of most attempts in the genre is to have a handful of chuckle-worthy moments, a sweet story and a happily ever after. Seldom are they gut-busters. Which is what makes this such a winner.

Don't get me wrong, it is sweet and charming in its own way. But, again unlike most of its brethren, its purpose isn't to send you into a schmaltz coma and awaken you to a dubious happy ending. Going the Distance entertains throughout, so much so that it makes the conclusion almost irrelevant. Why? Because you've had a good time and that doesn't change based on whether Erin and Garrett ride off into the sunset together. Because you're an adult and you realize that sometimes things are complicated and it's OK to show that in movies.

It's really funny. Just go see it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fall Into Film

That chill in the evening air says Summer's almost over. I'm not fretting, because there are plenty of movies I plan to cozy up to in the near future.

Heartbreaker - No, it's not an extended music video for the Pat Benetar (or Mariah Carey or Dolly Parton) song. But it looks cute and light and funny. Even if it is French. (Owww!) Out September 10th.
Easy A - Yes, it's a high school movie (note refusal to call it a teen movie). But, it looks refreshing and smart. And fun. Plus, I like Emma Stone. Out September 17th.
The Town - Because there's just something about movies set in Boston. Out September 17th.
Life as We Know It - I know, I know. Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, sappiness galore and baby-poop-on-face jokes. What can I say? I'm a sucker for these things sometimes. Out October 8th.
Morning Glory - I love Rachel McAdams and will (probably) see anything she's in. It also features the genius of both Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford, is penned by the writer of 27 Dresses, and helmed by the director of Notting Hill (those are two of my favorite romantic comedies, fyi).  Out November 12th.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) - I can't not. Out November 19th.
Black Swan - It looks beautiful and disturbing. And Natalie Portman is so often luminous. Hard to resist. Out December 1st.

So, there are others, including a few I'm on the fence about (like The Social Network) but that should do it for now. Anyone want to be my date for one of the above?

Monday, September 6, 2010

So Slow Suspense

The American
Dir: Anton Corbijn, 2010

The longest 105 minutes I've ever spent in a movie theater.

Jack (George Clooney) is an assassin (or at least someone who's really good with guns) who's hiding from some murderous Swedes and completing his last job in a small Italian town. His boss instructs him to make no friends and talk to no one. But, of course, no brooding, guarded Clooney character ever escaped the charms of a hooker with heart of gold or the prying eyes of a well-meaning local priest. 

The American starts off stark and beautiful, with slow shots of white snow and two lovebirds by a roaring fire. Then there's some gunfire and you think "alright, excitement." And then, there are a whole lot of scenes that go like this, but not necessarily in this order: Jack does sit-ups. Jack does push-ups. Jack does pull-ups. Jack takes a walk. Jack looks pensive. Jack broods. Jack looks suspicious. Jack tries hard not to smile, for this is a serious movie and he is a man with demons. Jack uses a payphone. Jack builds a gun. Jack visits a prostitute. Jack and the Italian countryside star in an extended car commercial. Jack eats. Jack sleeps and wakes with a jerk.

The makers and marketers of The American would like you to believe it is a very Hitchcockian affair. For starters, there's the minimalist poster of Clooney looking intense and running, gun in hand, which hearkens back to the North by Northwest image of Cary Grant running from a crop duster. And let's face it folks, Clooney's the top contender for the Contemporary Cary Grant Award, so the parallels draw themselves. Then there's the not-so-subtle casting of Paolo Bonacelli, who looks more than a bit like Hitchcock himself, as the Father Benedetto. And there are, of course, some super-tense scenes where you expect something jarring to happen, but flinch anyway when it does.

The problem is that Jack's a bad man of so few words that we don't actually care too much about him. Yeah, someone's after him, but so what? The sooner they get him or he gets them, the sooner the movie's over. That's about the extent of my investment in the character for the first three quarters of the movie. So imagine my boredom and chagrin at having to watch him go through the motions of his day in what felt like real-time.

The slowness of the film is a catalyst for The American's second big problem — its recycled playbook predictability. What's a viewer to do with all that mental energy not being solicited by anything on the screen? Why, expend it accurately guessing the "twist," among other plot points (not that it's hard). And, call me crazy, but I kind of want to believe that top notch assassins/spies/whatever Jack and his shady comrades are are at least a little more ingenious than I am. I shouldn't be able to figure out their next moves or see through their charades so easily.

OK, there are some beautiful scenes in this movie. And the acting is good. But, as good as Clooney and the rest are, and as gorgeous as Italy is, The American is still boring and disengaging. It still tries too hard to seem subtle, to hint at things — like Jack's tortured soul — by slamming them in the audience's face. It's still not something I recommend seeing in theaters.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Timing is Everything

Cairo Time
Dir: Ruba Nadda, 2009

Slow-burning and intoxicating.

Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is on her first trip to Cairo, where she plans to meet up with her husband, who's stuck dealing with a "flare-up" in a Gaza refugee camp. So, after a few ill-fated attempts at venturing out on her own, she cures her malaise by exploring the city — and some other stuff — with the errant husband's former colleague, Tareq (Alexander Siddig).

Cairo Time is:
Seductive. Siddig — who I think looks like an Arabic version of Hugh Laurie — oozes understated sexiness from every pore, in every scene. The dark hooded eyes, the way his slender frame moves in those crisp-but-loose dress shirts...mmm. And no amount of air conditioning could totally subdue the heat of the film's generous desert shots and the way Juliette and Tareq smoke that hookah. Clarkson and Siddig have great chemistry and it's often all in their body language. 

Beautiful. The cinematography is stunning. The shots are rich, lingering, vibrant. From the pyramids at Giza, to the White Desert, to Clarkson's radiance in bright flowy fabrics, there's so much about this film that will take your breath away.

A bit of a throwback. It feels more old timey cinema than it does contemporary indie flick. There's sweeping music, subtlety, quiet elegance, but no melodrama and no cynicism.

Artful. If you're a person who makes distinctions between "films" and "movies," you can categorize this as the former. It looks made with love, labor and mindfulness. Everything is intentional, but somehow still surprising.

Culturally interesting. It lets you ingest a few slices of Cairo life and depicts the culture clash in a smart, but nonchalant way. Sure, Juliette commits a handful of faux pas, but they're not harped on or milked for comic relief. For instance, the audience is definitely aware that she is out of place walking the streets of Cairo in short sleeves and knee-length skirts, and maybe a bit concerned for her, but it never becomes glaring to her and it's not overtly discussed. No stern talking-to, just people staring, which seems to me more authentic (Granted, I've never been to Egypt. But when I do culturally stupid things in other countries — even my own motherland — people usually just stare and/or give me dirty looks).

Cairo Time is NOT:
Fast-paced. While there are definitely exciting moments, it's not the type of film you should see if you're looking to get your adrenaline pumping. The plot unfolds in a timeless haze (because, of course, that's how life works in hot climates...right?)

Heavy on plot. Things happen, but not many things. Not earth-shattering things. It's more about encounters and exchanges than it is about intense drama. Which, of course, makes the few intense scenes even more nail-biting.

I loved and would recommend Cairo Time, but I'll also warn that it's not for everyone.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

4 Actors I Want to See in a Romantic Comedy

Leonardo DiCaprio. I've loved him since Growing Pains and I'll watch just about anything he's in. But, just once, I want him in a role where he cracks his heart-melting smile to woo a pretty lady and fumbles a little along the way. And, you know, doesn't die in some epic tragedy or end up otherwise wrecked by the time the credits roll. It makes my soul a little sad that the lightest film of his career thusfar was Titanic.

Would he be good? Maybe. He's charming, easy on the eyes and has a track record of good chemistry with most actresses. We know he can do romance, but can he deliver the comedy? I'm venturing a yes here. He's great with accents, so if all else fails, he can just throw one of those in for good measure.

Christian Bale. Brilliant actor, makes movies I love. But "why so serious?" All the time! I'd like to see him lighten up, humanize himself a little. You know, laugh?

I'm not sure he'd be believable as a romantic comedy lead, but I have faith he'd at least be memorable. Maybe it'd be a so-bad-it's-good kind of thing. Maybe he'd go ape poo on his co-star in the middle of a tender moment. I'm sure it'd be entertaining. Plus, I get the giggles whenever I picture him as the least bit hapless, romantic or vulnerable.

Sean Penn. Hey, he's funny! Remember how great he was as Ursula/Phoebe's naive boyfriend with a heart of gold on Friends? And he's definitely got screen presence. He might enjoy a breather from his usual heavy lifting, which one of my friends refers to as: "Sean Penn: ACTING!!!"

I think he'd be great in the right role — the quirkier the better. I see...a blocked writer, re-entering the dating scene after many years. I see...someone sweet but tough — Rachel McAdams, perhaps — easing the transition.

Jon Hamm. He's super swoon-worthy. Plus, we already know he's funny, thanks to his semi-recurring role on 30 Rock and his deadpan delivery of all things Don Draper.

He would be so good! Just don't throw him opposite Kate Hudson and I'm there.

You have my picks. Now, let's hear some of yours.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Baby Daddy Drama

The Switch
Dir: Josh Gordon & Will Speck, 2010

Endearing and funny.

Wally (Jason Bateman) is neurotic, romantically stagnant and ensembly challenged. His best friend Kassie, is a fearless, liberated woman-of-a-certain-age who decides to procreate using the stuff of a donor she can screen in real life. Impervious to Wally's nay-saying, she throws a party during which she plans to inseminate herself (in her bathroom) with the "fresh" product of a studly feminist professor. But Wally gets a little drunk, accidentally spills the seed down the drain, decides to replace it with his own and forgets he's done it. Cut to seven years later, when Kassie returns to New York with her son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), and Wally realizes the kid bears him an unsettling resemblance.

There are many things wrong and nonsensical in this movie, which work to undo your suspension of disbelief. Let's start with the fact that Kassie inseminates herself in her bathroom using a "medical device" we never see. This sounds about as plausible and safe as giving herself breast implants on the dining room table. Who does that? Eww.

That Kassie later doesn't connect the dots between Wally's idiosyncrasies and her own son's, especially since the kid has never met Wally, is another ridiculous thing for audiences to swallow. There's not even a light of recognition when she sees the two together. Really? She must be the world's least intuitive mother! I feel bad for Aniston, as it is not her fault her part is the weakest link in the whole movie. She works with what she has, and that is a character who seems like little more than a dim afterthought.

There, I've highlighted the worst of it. Now, let's move on to why I loved The Switch and why you should all go see it ASAP.

Wally. Yes, his neuroses and tics are hilarious. But, they are also isolating and sad. He doesn't have many friends, save his equally strange boss Leonard (played excellently by King of Quirk Jeff Goldblum) and the absent Kassie. He, like most neurotic people who aren't successful stand-up comedians or writers, doesn't profit from his weirdness. He suffers in life and relationships because of them. He isn't like everyone else and he's painfully aware of it. Too often, I think, movies portray social outcasts as misanthropes, self-exiles and people with superiority complexes. This movie seems to understand that low self-esteem, awkwardness and anxiety aren't choices.

Bateman plays Wally with honesty and humanity. He does an amazing job of conveying Wally's inner turmoil, even when he says nothing. He gets the nuances. I've long been a fan of his acting, but I think this is my favorite role of his. And, he accomplishes something very few actors can — a great voice-over that actually adds to the movie instead of being something you have to tolerate.

Sebastian. He is adorable, deadpan, tormented by diseases he doesn't have and by bullies who just don't get him. He, like Wally, has quirks that alienate him. He, like Wally, has it rough and seems resigned to the fact that sometimes it's just a mean ol' world. And Thomas Robinson is superb. His cuteness is neither exhausting nor nauseating. And he plays Sebastian as just the right amount of odd, dodging both creepiness and preciousness.

Wally + Sebastian. Their bond seems so effortless, so real, so immediate. It is easy to fall in love with their relationship and to get attached to them as a pair. This is the best father figure-young boy relationship I've seen since About a Boy.

See The Switch if you like comedies with heart and movies that treat out-of-the-ordinary characters with respect and depth. See it if you'd like a rom-com that offers a bit more than standard issue drivel. See it, because it's good and sweet and warm and it will make you smile.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chick Flick of the Summer?

Eat, Pray, Love
Dir: Ryan Murphy, 2010

Long and choppy.

Glee creator Ryan Murphy's big screen directing debut is based on the memoir detailing a lost 30-something woman's gastronomical, spiritual and emotional journey through Italy, India and Bali. After a depleting divorce and an intense relationship with a younger man, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) takes a year off to lick to her wounds (and some gelato) and reconnect with herself.

Maybe I found the movie dull and draggy because I finished the book just a few months ago. While the story is sweeping, it isn't exactly cinematic. It's too internal, relies too much on seeing Gilbert's broken world through her disarmingly honest, sometimes funny and sentimental prose. That's tough and it doesn't really happen in the movie version of Eat Pray Love. We don't get to know Gilbert well enough to care about her pain before she transforms into a human-sized raw nerve ending. It's hard to be affected by her midnight cries and bathroom floor prayers when all we know about her is that she's a writer and that something is wrong in her life.

The Italy part is the hardest to slog through. The friends she makes are boring, the food she eats isn't all that appetizing and the experience just seems soulless. There's no genuine joy in it, despite her lip service to the contrary. Also, why (and how) did cinematographer Robert Richardson make a stunning place like Italy look so underwhelming? From there the disjointed quest continues in India, where Gilbert spends four months in her guru's ashram. She meditates, scrubs a few floors and works on forgiving herself, while finding time to make a few friends and attend an arranged wedding. Finally, she sets off for Bali, to hang out with a toothless medicine man and find balance between the corporeal and the ethereal. On the whole, Gilbert's year of self-discovery is more tiring than enlightening, more a last ditch effort to avoid being eaten alive by her demons, than a brave adventure.
One of the good things about Eat Pray Love is that it's populated by a winning cast of supporting characters, who supply comic relief, wisdom, and most importantly, respite from Gilbert's exhaustive voice-overs. My favorite of these is Richard From Texas (Richard Jenkins), the veteran yogi who dubs her "Groceries" and slings his wisdom with a side of humor. He grounds the ashram portion of the film and makes it watchable. Richard Jenkins keeps his character from becoming a caricature the way that Gilbert's ex-husband Stephen (Billy Crudup) does. That, by the way, is not the actor's fault, but the fault of Murphy and co-writer Jennifer Salt, who turn him into the fickle, lovesick and clueless court jester of the film's first 20 minutes. Kudos to Crudup, who does a great job with the material, managing to elicit his due sympathy as Gilbert carpet-bombs Stephen's life. Javier Bardem's portrayal of Felipe, the Brazilian expat who romances Gilbert, keeps you engaged in the third act, even though Felipe isn't that meaty. He's sexy, self-possessed, warm and very present and he makes watching worthwhile when it feels like you've already sunk too many hours of your life into this movie. 

It's not a bad idea to skip this movie if you've read the book. The intimacy of the memoir doesn't translate well to the screen and you might just be disappointed. If you haven't read the book, see the movie first, if you're so inclined. It's not necessary to see it on the big screen either. In fact, I think its effect would be enhanced if you cozied up to it with a cup of cocoa in the winter months.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Cliches are not OK

The Kids are All Right
Dir: Lisa Cholodenko, 2010

Everything you'd expect a critically acclaimed indie comedy about rich white Californians to be, and not much more.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a middle-aged couple whose marriage has lost its luster. Their two kids — Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) — have decided to contact their sperm donor in an attempt to suss out a bit more of their own identities. Donor-dad Paul (Mark Ruffalo) has a successful local restaurant, but no real family to call his own, so of course his growing presence proceeds to complicate that of his spawn. It all makes for an entertaining enough, but ultimately hollow, film about the familiar struggles of self-definition, marriage and family.

The acting in The Kids are All Right is solid. Bening and Moore have great chemistry as the alpha female, wine-guzzling doctor and cool earth mother with unrealized potential. Moore and Ruffalo also have great chemistry, and sparks fly between Jules and Paul the minute she starts landscaping his untended garden. Hutcherson manages to be just the right amount of annoying as Laser dabbles in drugs and bonehead friends and Wasikowska plays perfectly the quiet, smart, insecure, fresh-faced and innocent Joni.

There are a handful of cheer-worthy moments of genuine honesty and humor. Like when Laser asks his moms why they watch gay man porn and, after an awkward beat, Jules gives an intelligent explanation of human sexuality. Or the palpable sexual tension between Joni and her sweet South Asian guy friend, as they sit on the floor in her bedroom. And little beats the straight-out-of-a-sex comedy scene where getting frisky with a toy and a flick has embarrassing results for Nic and Jules. For the most part, you really feel the love between everyone in the family, even if you don't feel any love for them.

One problem I have with The Kids are All Right is that it's one big, organic cotton t-shirt wearing, California cliche. There may not be any surfing, marijuana or tie-dye (well, maybe a little tie-dye), but there's spontaneous a cappella Joni Mitchell karaoke (which is actually a great scene and one of the few in which Bening is allowed to fully shine). There's also the token "pretty pensive girl awash in sunlight and silence in a moving car" shot, Jules's tired hippie tendencies, the endearing Latino gardener. Even Nic's rant about how she's so over composting and being green has a self-conscious, contrived feel to it.  This all makes it even harder to connect with the characters, who are all either too self-involved and self-satisfied or too immature to be immediately relatable. Their lack of true depth makes them boring and disengaging, in a movie that tries too hard to seem like it's not trying hard at all.

My other issue is that the movie is just too neat. It is too controlled, too obviously micromanaged by writer-director Cholodenko, to ever feel like it has a life of its own. I guess what I'm saying is that I could see the strings. Also, despite its ultra-cool, ultra-indie cred, the plot is formulaic and unfolds a little like that of a Full House episode: evidence of happy, alternative-but-well-adjusted family ("Cut. It. Out.") —> problem arises with one or more family members ("Oh, Mylanta!") —> irresponsible culprit hides issue from more responsible party ("How rude!") —> moment of truth ("You're in big trouble, mister!") —> tidy, but unsatisfying, resolution to problem, leaving no loose ends whatsoever ("You got it, dude!").

I say see it, but wait for the DVD.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ideas = Power

Dir: Christopher Nolan, 2010

Smart, stunning and engrossing.

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a specialized thief in a world not unlike our own. He and his team break into people's subconsciouses and extract their secrets while they dream. After a series of missteps, Cobb finds himself on the losing end of the high stakes game; a fugitive from justice, with a hefty bounty on his head. His only hope is to try something everyone says is impossible: inception.
The best thing about Inception is its ability to carry out an original, intelligent concept in a digestible and enjoyable way. It is cerebral without being headache-inducing, fast-paced without being jarring, elaborate without being confusing. Writer-director Nolan neither panders nor alienates, which is a rare skill in today's polarized Hollywood, where the goal seems to be either mediocrity or incomprehensibility.

Inception is a complete and complex movie —  as multi-layered as the dream world Cobb and his team create — with something for everyone to enjoy. Action fans will eat up the chase scenes and gun battles; aesthetics junkies will appreciate the beautiful, crisp cinematography and numerous breathtaking shots; romantics will love the bittersweet saga of Dom and his wife.

You won't be sorry you saw this on the big screen.