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Pete Postlethwaite

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2010 in Film.

With Snooki set, and the earth embarking on another tour around the sun, it must be time for the 2010 movie round-up. As always, there are a few contender films I haven’t yet seen — Blue Valentine opens here next weekend, for example. But, as it happens, I did see quite a few more movies than usual this year — an added bonus to having a full-time, non-gradual school income again. In any case, without further ado, the…

Top 20 Films of 2010
[2000/2001/2002/2003/2004/2005/2006/2007/2008/2009/The Oughts]

1. Toy Story 3: I kept expecting some other movie to come along in the second half of 2010 and knock this lachrymose Pixar masterpiece out of the top spot. But, in a not particularly great year for movies, Lee Unkrich’s surprisingly sad and soulful Toy Story 3 held onto the crown. (As it turns out, the highest grossing film of the year was also the best.) Basically, this is the movie about fleeting youth and fading plastic that Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are wanted to be. And, while I’m still not sure if kids will vibe into the melancholy shenanigans here at all, it touched a chord in more than one aging man-child out there…just ask QT.

2. The Red Riding Trilogy: Amid the moors of the North, there is an evil that does not sleep. Originally a TV miniseries in Britain, the Red Riding trilogy — 1974, 1980 and 1983 — counted as full-fledged movies for those of us stateside. And, while perhaps too grim for some tastes, this three-part, nine-year inquiry into black deeds in Yorkshire was as immersive and transporting a movie experience as there was in 2010. (The problem was, you didn’t necessarily want to be where it transported you.) True, the third film was weaker than the first two installments. But taken as a whole, this was one gritty and impressive crime saga, with a number of memorable turns by Paddy Considine, Andrew Garfield, Mark Addy, Rebecca Hall, Peter Mullan and others.

3. The Secret in Their Eyes: Alas, you will find no respite from the Yorkshire darkness in the Argentina of the Dirty War. Earlier in the year, I had A Prophet ranked above this movie, the Best Foreign Film winner of 2009. (It was released here in 2010.) But Juan Jose Campanella’s haunting picture has grown in my memory in the months since. Like Red Riding, this is another wistful investigation into murder, missed opportunities, and the choices we make, one that sticks with you well after the theater lights come up.

4. True Grit: For the third time in four years, the Coens make the top five. (See also No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man.) And while I concede to being a bit of a Coen fanboy, I’m guessing this retelling of the John Wayne classic stands on its own merits. The occasional quirk aside, this is the brothers’ Straight Story, and, as I said in the original review, it feels like an unearthed and quintessentially American coming-of-age tale. The travails of Ree Dolly may have been the cat’s meow to many critics this year, but, when it comes to teenage girls facing a heap of adversity, I myself cottoned to the western adventures of Matty Ross.

5. The Social Network: With top-notch work from David Fincher, Trent Reznor, and the entire cast, The Social Network has a crisp, sleek, and entertaining interface to be sure. On an intellectual level, it’s definitely one of the most purely enjoyable movies of the year. But I still find this film somewhat dubious in terms of content. It works better as a Shakespearean tale of ambition and betrayal — Richard III by way of Revenge of the Nerds — than it does a legitimate recreation of the origins of Facebook. Still, given that much of the action takes place at a university whose motto is Veritas (“Truth”) and yet whose most prominent landmark is the “Statue of the Three Lies,” I guess I should probably forgive TSN its many factual screw-ups. Print the legend and all that.

6. A Prophet: Call it the Antisocial Network: Another 2009 foreign film that made it here in 2010, Jacques Audiard’s novelistic, keenly observed A Prophet — about a young prisoner learning to survive and thrive in the interstices of a cross-cultural jailyard — was another of the best films of the year. A Prophet can feel slow at times, and it’s not an experience I’m likely to revisit anytime soon. But it’s this film’s continual attention to the devastating detail that makes it a prison movie to remember.

7. Inception: Just as he did with The Prestige after Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan took a mental health break from Gotham City after The Dark Knight by crafting this mindbending sorbet, the best “summer movie thrillride” experience of 2010. (The only other ones that come close are #9 below and the first-half of Tron: Legacy.) I still wish Inception was a bit more ragged in its dreaming, and, like a dream, it makes more sense when you’re watching it than when you think back on it later. Nonetheless, Inception was great fun throughout, and if nothing else, it spawned one of my favorite new Internet memes.

8. The Fighter: I just saw this one over the weekend, so it has no review up yet. Suffice to say, I was pleasantly surprised by David O’Russell’s chronicle of the comeback of welterweight “Irish” Micky Ward, the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts. In fact, I had the opposite experience here that I had with The King’s Speech. There was a potentially interesting story told extremely conventionally, while this is a tried and tested sports movie formula — a boxer with one last shot at a title — that still felt fresh and invigorating. True, the seven Ward sisters were a bit much — They were the only time this boxing movie veered toward the egregious cartoon rednecks of Million Dollar Baby. But otherwise, solid performances by Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and especially Christian Bale give this could’ve-been-by-the-numbers film a much-needed heart.

9. Kick-Ass: Capitalizing on the promise he showed in Layer Cake, director Matthew Vaughn brought to life the most engaging comic book reverie of 2010 with Kick-Ass, his warmer, more colorful take on the Mark Millar comic. This film saw Nicolas Cage continue his Bad Lieutenant mini-revival, Mark Strong continue to hone his talent for instant Big-Bad gravitas (see also: Sherlock Holmes, 2011’s Green Lantern), and, like a bat out of Hell (or New Mexico, for that matter), 13-year-old Chloe Moretz become an out-and-out, foul-mouthed, ass-kicking action star. Few films this year were as fun as this one.

10. Exit Through the Gift Shop: As this potentially faux-documentary explains: Before he exposed the sweatshops under Springfield, British provocateur Banksy set the world of street art careening over the shark by encouraging Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash, to get in the graffiti game. It’s still an open question whether Banksy’s disastrous creation of MBW was inadvertent or just his latest well-crafted skewering of the powers-that-be. Either way, Exit Through the Gift Shop, about the rise and fall of street art, is a merry prank indeed.

11. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: While the Harry Potter books grew distended and clumsy in the home stretch, the movie series continues to gain steam along that last low road to Hogwarts. In bringing to life the first half of Hallows, David Yates has made arguably the best Potter film yet, and not just because he has the good sense to riff on Brazil therein. The danger feels more palpable, the hopping around the countryside feels less episodic, and, after a decade of doing this, the Big Three wear their characters naturally now. Here’s hoping Harry Potter and the Battalion of Thespians manage to close things out as smoothly this summer.

12. Inside Job: You think Banksy got away with a grift? Check this one out. Pinning its high-profile subject to the mat much more successfully than did Alex Gibney’s Casino Jack documentary, Inside Job impressively lays out the causes and (lack of) consequences of the Great Wall Street meltdown of 2008. Those would be a swollen, rapacious, and unregulated financial services sector, and a government that, even after the Big Bust, still bends over backward to appease it. The only real problem with Inside Job is the feedback loop — The only folks likely to see this film are the same ones who already know the story and are enraged by it. Still, I’m glad it’s there, and at least it’s encouraging economists to clean up their act.

13. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Like I said back in August, Scott Pilgrim seems to have gone the way of the much-maligned Speed Racer. As visually inventive as it was, Pilgrim didn’t make much of a splash at the box office. But even if its fanboy fan service tendencies still rankle, Edgar Wright’s ode to geek crushes and the g4m3r life deserved more love than it got on the first play, so hopefully it enjoys several more lives on Blu Ray and beyond.

14. The Town: Admittedly, Boston is getting a bit peaked as Hollywood’s go-to destination for white working-class crime stories of late (Mystic River, The Departed, Gone Baby Gone.) That being said, Ben Affleck’s “Beantown Heat” was a strong, well-made, and entertaining ensemble film with a good sense of place and charisma to burn. Everyone from Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall to Chris Cooper and the late Pete Postlethwaite bring their A-game here, with special kudos to Jeremy Renner as Affleck’s crazy-like-a-fox pahtnuh-in-crime.

15. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers: After watching Inside Job, you might wonder why our government is in such a furor over Julian Assange and Wikileaks when crimes like constructing an illegal torture regime and, oh, causing an worldwide global economic meltdown seem to go unpunished. And after watching Ellsberg, you might think we’ve seen this movie before anyway. (Just take it from the man himself.) Constructed like a conspiracy thriller, Ellsberg is a testament to the notion that sometimes whistle-blowing — the only “misdeed” our current administration can seem to get angry about these days — may in fact be a higher form of patriotism. However you feel about Ellsberg and Wikileaks, this is a compelling documentary about tough choices in contentious times.

16. Never Let Me Go: Like The Secret In Their Eyes, this quiet, elegiac sci-fi film has risen in my estimation in the months since I saw it. Keira Knightley is still a drag on the production, and all of the characters a bit too locked-in for my taste — If they were so invested in one plan to avoid their fate, they should’ve been more willing to contemplate other avenues of escape as well. Still, also like The Secret In Their Eyes, this is a movie whose mood of reticent mourning lingers on.

17. Terribly Happy: How do you say “Blood Simple” in Danish? This weird Coenesque ditty about a sheriff with a troubled past investigating Something Rotten in Denmark was yet another late arrival to these shores — It premiered in Europe in 2008. And yet, once again, it was among the best 2010 had to offer. Let’s hope the pattern holds and right now, some of the best films of this year are already kicking around other continents, ready to be unleashed.

18. The King’s Speech: I wrote about this one rather recently, so my views on it haven’t changed much. This is a undeniably well-made, well-written, and well-performed film, but I found its sports-movie structure and Merchant-Ivory bromance all a bit pat. Still, Colin Firth in particular is excellent here — With this and A Single Man, he’s aging into a more interesting actor than he was before. Consider it his Baldwinning.

19. The Ghost Writer: As he pieces together the memoirs of England’s ex-PM, boilerplate and boredom are the least of Ewan MacGregor’s worries — He also has surveillance men and femmes fatale to contend with. Ghost, welcome to the Machine! This conspiratorial yarn isn’t a particularly deep film — more just a cheeky throwback to 70’s paranoia thrillers and an extended screw-you to the departed Tony Blair. Still, whatever his other sins, Roman Polanski fashioned a brisk and entertaining cloak-and-dagger flick here.

20. The Kids Are All Right: I thought about Get Him to the Greek, Greenberg, and Shutter Island for this last spot. But, in the end, I gave the nod to this, Lisa Cholodenko’s well-observed slice of family life in 21st century California. This is a small and unassuming film, but one that does what it does quite well — It takes a number of well-drawn characters and lets them breathe and bounce off each other.

Most Disappointing: Alice in Wonderland: An embarrassment to the Carroll book: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have never seemed so uninspired together.

Worth Netflixing: 44-Inch Chest, The American, A Single Man (2009), Crazy Heart (2009), Daybreakers, The Eclipse, Get Him to the Greek, Greenberg, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009), Knight and Day, Let Me In, Life During Wartime, The Lovely Bones (2009), Shutter Island, Splice, The Square, Tron: Legacy, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Winter’s Bone, Youth in Revolt

Don’t Bother: The Art of the Steal, Black Swan, The Book of Eli, Brooklyn’s Finest, Casino Jack and the USM, Catfish, Clash of the Titans, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Green Zone, Hot Tub Time Machine, Invictus (2009), Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Legion, The Losers, Machete, Red, Robin Hood, Salt, Sweetgrass, The Tourist, The Werewolf, The White Ribbon

Best Actor: Ricardo Darin, The Secret In Their Eyes, Tahar Rahim, A Prophet; Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone, Haylee Steinfeld, True Grit
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter; Jeremy Renner, The Town; Andrew Garfield, The Social Network/Never Let Me Go
Best Supporting Actress: Chloe Moretz, Kick-Ass, Amy Adams, The Fighter; Charlotte Rampling, Life During Wartime

Unseen: 127 Hours, The A-Team, All Good Things, Animal Kingdom, Another Year, Blue Valentine, Buried, Burlesque, Carlos, Casino Jack, Centurion, Chloe, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, Conviction, Cop Out, Country Strong, The Crazies, Creation, Date Night, Despicable Me, Devil, Dinner for Schmucks, Easy A, Eat, Pray, Love, Edge of Darkness, The Expendables, Extraordinary Measures, Fair Game, Fish Tank, Four Lions, From Paris with Love, Get Low, The Good, The Bad, and the Weird, Gulliver’s Travels, Harry Brown, Hereafter, How Do You Know?, Howl, I am Love, The Illusionist, I Love You, Phillip Morris, I’m Still Here, Jackass 3D, Jack Goes Boating, The Karate Kid, The Killer Inside Me, The Last Exorcism, The Last Station, Leap Year, Little Fockers, MacGruber, Made in Dagenham, Micmacs, Monsters, Mother, The Next Three Days, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Other Guys, Paranormal Activity 2, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Please Give, Predators, The Prince of Persia, Rabbit Hole, Rare Exports, Repo Men, Secretariat, Shrek Forever After, Skyline, Somewhere, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Step Up 3D, Survival of the Dead, Takers, Tangled, The Tempest, Tiny Furniture, Twilight: Eclipse, Unstoppable, Valentine’s Day, Vincere, When In Rome, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

    A Good Year For:

  • Abduction as Seduction (Knight & Day, Red, The Tourist)
  • Andrew Garfield (Red Riding, The Social Network, Never Let Me Go)
  • Aussie Noir (The Square, Animal Kingdom)
  • Charlotte Rampling (Life During Wartime, Never Let Me Go)
  • Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In)
  • Ghostly Ex’s (Life During Wartime, The Eclipse)
  • The Dude’s Paternal Side (Tron: Legacy, True Grit)
  • Working-class Bay Staters (The Town, The Fighter)

    A Bad Year For:

  • Angelina Jolie (Salt, The Tourist)
  • Art Museums (Exit Through the Gift Shop, Art of the Steal)
  • B-level DC Heroes (Jonah Hex, The Losers)
  • Eighties Remakes (Karate Kid, Nightmare on Elm Street)
  • Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist)
  • Leo’s Sanity (Inception, Shutter Island)
  • The Street (Inside Job, Wall Street 2)

2011: 5 Days in August, 30 Minutes or Less, The Adjustment Bureau, Albert Nobbs, Amigo, Anonymous, Arthur, Arthur Christmas, Bad Teacher, Barney’s Version, Battle: Los Angeles, The Beaver, Beginners, Bernie, The Big Year, Black Gold, Brighton Rock, Caesar: Rise of the Apes, Captain America: The First Avenger, Cars 2, Cedar Rapids, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, The Conspirator, Contagion, Coriolanus, Cowboys and Aliens, Damsels in Distress, A Dangerous Method, The Darkest Hour, The Debt, The Deep Blue Sea, The Descendants, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Drive Angry, The Eagle, The Factory, The Fields, Friends with Benefits, Fright Night, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, The Guard, The Hangover Part 2, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Haywire, I am Number Four, Jane Eyre, Larry Crowne, Limitless, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Muppets, Paul, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Priest, Rango, Sanctum, Scream 4, Season of the Witch, Sherlock Holmes 2, Source Code, Straw Dogs, Sucker Punch, Super 8, The Thing, Thor, The Tree of Life, The Way Back, X-Men: First Class, Your Highness, and…

Thundering Son of a Sea-Gherkin! It’s Tintin!

For Pete’s Sake.


At the end of the day, acting is all about telling lies. We are professional imposters and the audience accept that. We’ve made this deal that we tell you a tale and a pack of lies, but there will be a truth in it. You may enjoy it, or it will disturb you.” Character actor and late-career climate change activist Pete Postlethwaite, 1946-2011.

Wicked Heat.


Behind as ever on the movie front — I saw this one two weeks ago — and we’re heading into a particularly chock-full film weekend. So, without further ado: Ben Affleck’s worthwhile crime saga The Town, his similarly Beantown-based follow-up to the promising Gone Baby Gone, is, for all intent and purposes, Heat in the Hub. (Or, put another way, this movie is to Heat what The Departed was to Infernal Affairs — Just add Boston.)

And let’s face it: Between the movies above, and Mystic River, The Boondock Saints, and even going back to the 1994 Jeff Bridges-Tommy Lee Jones mega-stinker Blown Away, white working-class Boston has recently become a bit of a movie cliche as the go-to venue for local color in a cops-and-robbers movie. (And, as in Gone Baby Gone, Affleck perhaps overuses the aerial establishing shots of the Boston skyline here.) But take that for what it is and The Town is definitely a quality entertainment — Well-written, well-made, and with a raft of very good performances, some of them potentially Oscar-caliber, The Town is a smart, adult-minded action movie that delivers what it promises.

For some, I’d expect what The Town mainly promises is “Don Draper and Gossip Girl!” (Having never seen Gossip Girl, and being more of a movie than a TV guy, I was more drawn in by Rebecca Hall and Jeremy Renner. Ok, Jon Hamm too.) But, in fact, and perhaps because Affleck is obviously an actor himself and thus generous with them, The Town is less a star vehicle than an ensemble piece, and it brims over with enjoyable performances. To take just three examples in the margins, Chris Cooper quietly simmers with pent-up rage in the Big House, Pete Postlethwaite gives a sinister edge (and a whiff of cheese) to his turn as an old-school Boston criminal, and Affleck alum Titus Welliver brings his usual swagger to the role of a local cop who knows all-too-well how the old neighborhood works.

I kinda hate to say this, but if there’s a false note struck in the acting department here, it’s probably Affleck himself. He’s a decent enough actor, and he doesn’t upset the movie by any means — From moment to moment, he’s fine in the role. But as the lead — Dougie MacRay, a street-smaht Charlestown bank robber who accidentally falls for the hostage (Hall) of his latest job — Affleck seems miscast, mainly because his choirboy looks and general, aw-shucks demeanor rob the character of a much-needed edge. However much he hit the gym beforehand, Affleck just seems too easygoing to pull off the dangerous blue-collar tough-guy thing. (And so, small plot details, like his saintly character once being an almost-pro-hockey player, which might’ve worked otherwise, seem even more like screenwriterly groaners.)

Now, in the Al Pacino role — the dogged FBI agent hot on our anti-hero’s heels — Jon Hamm is pretty much right in his usual, Drapery wheelhouse. You can’t say he shows us much different here (other than, in one scene, a very funny Boston accent — “You and your boys didn’t just roll a Stah Mahket over in Milton for a bahx of quahters.” It’s right up there with his James Mason.) But the role suits him, and it’s definitely a step up from his brief appearance in the Keanu’ed Day the Earth Stood Still. (Is Superman next? Well, definitely maybe.)

For her part, Blake Lively is a real presence in a relatively small role, and, while, like I said, I’ve never seen Gossip Girl, I doubt her character on TV is the been-’round-the-block Townie mom (a la Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone) that Lively plays here, and she’s quite good. Rebecca Hall, meanwhile, is an actress I’ve sorta crushed on since The Prestige (she’s probably best known for Vicky Christina Barcelona (#15), and most recently popped up in Red Riding), but her part here — the love interest — is a mostly thankless one. (The Town‘s script is generally solid, but at one point in the early going Hall is given a laugh-out-loud terrible anecdote involving tragedies and sunny days that stops the film dead. She musters through as best she can.)

In the end, though, the standout of The Town is Jeremy Renner, continuing his post-Hurt Locker leap to the A-list with another very impressive performance. As Jem, Dougie’s screw-up of a best friend who takes a special relish in crackin’ skulls on the job, Renner takes a Masshole character which could’ve been wayyyy over-the-top in someone else’s hands and sells it with understatement. In, say, 28 Weeks Later, Renner seemed as amiable as Affleck, but here he’s a coiled menace, almost despite himself, and the type of Townie at the end of the bah you do NOT want to mess with.

Renner may have gotten passed over for Jeff Bridges at the Oscars last year (a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, if not necessarily for Crazy Heart), and if The Social Network is half as good as touted, Andrew Garfield or even JT might end up giving him some run too. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Renner atop the Supporting Actor field for The Town this winter. In a well-made, entertaining heist film through-and-through, he’s the guy who ultimately steals the show.

I Don’t Sleep, I Dream.

In writing a favorable review of The Prestige in 2006, I compared Chris Nolan’s film version of Christopher Priest’s novel to an expertly-crafted, well-wound clock: “a dark, clever, and elegant contraption…that suggests razor-sharp clockwork gears and threatening pulses of electrical current, all impressively encased in burnished Victorian-era mahogany.” Well, the watchmaker is at it again: Audacious, trippy, inventive, and maybe a touch too sleek in the end, Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a psychic heist film that’s easily among the best mainstream releases of 2010. While Toy Story 3 actually packed more of an emotional punch, this is one fun night out alright, and as smart and engaging a summer sci-fi action flick as we’ve seen since last year’s District 9.

Now, to be clear: Like Nolan’s The Dark Knight and its obviously rushed third act, I have some definite issues with the movie, which I will get into a moment. But, also like TDK, these issues don’t really detract from the actual viewing experience as it unfolds. So, if you want to consider the last few paragraphs here as mainly nitpicking to death an otherwise entertaining and more-clever-than-we-probably-deserve summer movie experience, you’re within your rights. The upshot is: You should definitely see it yourself and come to your own conclusions — Inception is worth the ten bucks and then some.

Inception was originally billed by Nolan back in 2009 as a “contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind,” and, short of The Romantic’s “Talking in Your Sleep,” that’s as simple a way of describing the plot as any. Here, Leonardo Di Caprio’s Dom Cobb is a corporate security specialist who — along with his right-hand man Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, burnishing his cool) and his “Architect” (Lukas Haas, Team Brick assemble!) — spends his days hacking important intel from people’s heads by manipulating their dreams. This futuristic process is called “Extraction,” and Dom and his team are very, very good at it, but not so good that a job doesn’t get botched now and again…partly because Cobb happens to carry along some unwieldy subconscious baggage, in the form of the often-armed, always-disarming Mal (Marion Cotillard).

On the hook with a very powerful individual (Ken Watanabe) after one of these jobs gone awry, the Dream Team are presented with a counter-offer — one that, if successful, will mean Cobb gets the diplomatic immunity he desperately desires to go home and see his kids again: Plant an idea deep in the head of a corporate rival (Cillian Murphy) and hope it will germinate — a process known as “inception.” Now, this is a more complicated affair than the business-as-usual of extraction, because, apparently, people’s brains reject memes that they perceive as coming from somewhere else. (I take it Nolan has never met a Glenn Beck viewer.)

And so, as per men-on-a-mission movies from The Magnificent 7 to Ocean’s 11, Cobb goes out to recruit a bigger, better team for this heist — including a “forger” (Tom Hardy) to play-act the needed characters in the mark’s brain, a “chemist” (Dileep Rao) to handle the tricky sedation situation, and a more enterprising Architect (Ellen Page) to build a more labyrinthine mousetrap of a dream. But even as this expanded collection of expert psychonauts prepares for the Big Score, there’s still the matter of that alluring French skeleton in Cobb’s psychic closet. And the more the new Architect — Ariadne by name — unearths the secrets within Cobb’s troubled brow, the less she wants to spend any time sharing a dreamscape with these damaged goods…

The fact that Ellen Page’s character is un-self-consciously called Ariadne should give you a sense of how occasionally clunky Inception can be in the early-to-middle-going, when Nolan’s characters are forced to explain the basic rules of the game — extraction, inception, “projections” and “totems” and the like — in expository bursts. Now, on one hand, I’m guessing most fans of science fiction generally have a high tolerance for this sort of please-explain-your-terms speechifying anyway. (Otherwise, so many sci-fi tomes couldn’t start along the lines of: “While flipping idly through the Vidquik transmids from Cathedral space, Dren Garrit settled his XLV-Class Starfarer into a cruising altitude of 26 parsecrons over Koggoth,” etc. etc.)

That being said, some of the ground-rules here do seem rather arbitrary, others seem undeveloped (what was that business with the basement opium den?), and others seem to change as the story progresses. (Most obviously, the midpoint introduction of Limbo. Speaking of which, 1) Why would Murphy’s deepest dream at the end be set in the di Caprio-Cotillard version of Limbo? and 2) how did Leo and Saito get out of their dream at the end without a clap?) But the wall-of-text exposition scenes are one of my smaller quibbles with Inception. After all, the rules are the rules — so long as they’re followed once they’re established, I don’t have too much trouble with this sort of thing. (And as an aside, wasn’t it nice of Martin Scorsese to make the Limbo-set prequel of Inception, earlier this year?)

A bigger problem, to my mind, is that, for a movie about dreams, Inception seems a little too wary not to draw outside the lines. When I brought up the watchmaker metaphor at the beginning, it’s because, at times, this feels like a Bond movie conceived and written by Dr. Manhattan — brilliant in its complexity and ingenuity alright, but maybe just a little too perfect for human purposes, and even a bit…cold. (“I would only agree that a symbolic clock is as nourishing to the intellect as photograph of oxygen to a drowning man.“) FWIW, and for whatever reason, I found the (m)Orpheus and Eurydice side of the story much more emotionally resonant than Cobb’s rather hackneyed quest to see his kids’ faces again. (I mean, c’mon now, really?)

What do I mean by “too perfect”? Well, I tend to find my dreams both more innocuous and more flat-out-bizarre than anything going on in Inception. Like, I don’t really tend to dream that I’m an extra in In Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I tend to dream I’m at work in my cubicle, except my old kitchen is attached, and I have on blue facepaint and Berkeley‘s there, only he’s wearing an Abe Lincoln stovepipe hat, and my co-workers are trying to feed him a talking goldfish but I think that’s a bad idea, and Elvis Costello and Ray Davies are in the corner doing a mean cover of “Waterloo Sunset,” except it sounds more like Lady Gaga and it’s way too long for a 3-minute speech anyway… (Freudians and Jungians stand down. I just made this example up, and has nothing to do with my real dreams…as far as you know.)

The point being, dreams, even or especially the throwaway ones, are usually weird. But the Bondian vignettes in Inception just seem like video game levels to me. (Level I: Grand Theft Auto, Level 2: The Matrix, Level 3: Modern Warfare 2.) This relative aridness of Nolan’s Dreaming is compounded by the generic thug baddies all about — I don’t know about you, but I kinda think some of my dream projections would have super-powers or really scary reptile fangs or something — and by the fact that Nolan goes out of his way to explain every single thing about these dreamscapes, to the point where the actual ragged, twisted-pretzel logic of dreaming gets lost in the shuffle.

One of the bravura sequences in the film (also referenced heavily in the trailers and in my anticipatory post, so not a huge spoiler) is @hitRECordjoe‘s Matrix-y solo mission in the gravity-free hotel. And, yet, there’s a very specific story reason why JGL is floating around here. A cool story reason, to be sure, and the way different dreamworlds overlap with snap-into-place logical precision is one of the more satisfying aspects of the film. But, in dreams, does everything really have to have a reason? Shouldn’t he just be able to float, like, when he wants to, or just because he is?

Again, don’t get me wrong — I know much of the back-half of this post is my leveling fanboy complaints towards an intelligent, well-realized, and very fun summer movie. I enjoyed myself quite a bit during Inception, and I’ll very likely see it again. Still, like any number of dreams, both the movie’s logic and its captivating power do look a little more threadbare upon reflection after the fact. Twas a good dream, but a dream nonetheless.

Wicked Game.

As seen at Inception last night, Beantown bank robber Ben Affleck develops an inconvenient crush on his former hostage, bank manager Rebecca Hall, in the new trailer for The Town, Affleck’s follow-up to Gone Baby Gone. Town also features Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper, and presumably lots of local Boston color. Sure, I could see this.

The Dream Knight.


You musn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” Our minds are the scene of the sale after this very appealing new trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Inception, with Leonardo di Caprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (still broke up over Summer, it seems, or is he auditioning for Nolan’s new Joker?), Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, and a lot of pulsating TDK-like strings. Even if this looks basically like The Dark Knight meets The Matrix meets Dreamscape (with a splash of MW2), it’s on the top of my summer queue — July 16, 2010.

Made of Stone.

After about a half hour or so of stilted, mind-numbing, make-you-want-to-claw-your-eyes-out exposition, Louis Leterrier’s interminable remake of Clash of the Titans, for some reason or another, takes a brief moment to badmouth Bubo, the metal owl from the 1981 version of the film. Well, say what you will about that goofy Harry Hamlin-Burgess Meredith-Lawrence Olivier flick and its Minervan comic-relief droid — At least it had heart.

This whiteboy-angsty retread of Titans, on the other hand, basically has no pulse whatsoever. It’s just a lumbering, CGI-ridden box office monstrosity not unlike its Cloverfield-ish Kraken, and one that could desperately use the same spark of life Zeus ostensibly once infused in mortal men. You remember that godawful tag line from the first trailer — “Titans will Clash“? Well, the FX processors notwithstanding, that’s about the level of effort put forth by this movie, as in none at all. Granted, Clash isn’t quite as awful as last month’s woeful Alice in Wonderland, but it’s definitely in the same lo-rent ballpark.

This iteration of Clash begins with a starfield and the demi-goddess Io (Gemma Arterton, late of Quantum of Solace, soon of Prince of Persia) in full expository mode, a la Virginia Madsen at the start of Dune. (Or, for that matter, Cate Blanchett in Fellowship — Leterrier explicitly bites from PJ’s Tolkien trilogy several times here — See also all the very LotR-like pans of Perseus & co. walking through Glorious Nature to wherever they’re going next.) So, anyways, this backstory is pretty standard — Zeus defeats the Titans, he, Poseidon and Hades divvy up the universe, etc. etc.

And eventually, along comes Perseus (Sam Worthington, more on him in a bit), a son of Zeus found lost at sea as a babe by a fisherman (Pete Postlethwaite, paying the mortgage). Unlike earlier iterations, this Perseus grows up a sullen, wrathful sort, and particularly after Hades (Ralph Fiennes, wasted) drowns his entire family as an afterthought to a fly-by shooting of sorts. Bent on revenge for these murders, Perseus soon enlists on a suicide mission to defeat Hade’s powerful pet, the fearsome Kraken — which, thanks to a bit of inopportune blasphemy by Cassiopeia, the queen of Argos (Polly Walker, wasted), will either be destroying the city or devouring its sensitive-soul, Peace Corps-ish princess, Andromeda (Alexa Davalos, unremarkable) in ten days time.

So this glum, grim, and altogether peeved demigod sets out with a team of soldiers — let’s just go ahead and call them the body count — to find a way to stop the Kraken, which may or may not include fending off giant scorpions, battling Calibos (Jason Flemyng), bartering with witches, and wrangling with Medusa (Natalia Vodianova). And, given the subject matter, it’s almost weird how boring all of this turns out to be. Partly because Perseus’ fighting style throughout is basically “run-in-the-other-direction-from-the-CGI-thingy.” Partly because the script…well, sucks. It’s just bad one-liners and lazy exposition all the live-long day. And partly because, aside from a pair of Asterix-and-Obelix-style hunters who tag along for the ride (Ashraf Barhom and Mouloud Achour), nobody’s having any fun whatsoever here. It’s all grimacing and cursing the Gods for this, that, or the other thing. Just deadly dull stuff.

Is this innate boringness Sam Worthington’s fault? Well…maybe. I said after the also-terrible Terminator: Salvation that Worthington “has presence, and I could see him being a A-lister if given the right material.” But after Avatar and this flick, I’m revising that statement. He’s had three bites at the apple now, and, while I suspect some female or gay readers may disagree — and making some allowances for the fact that, all three times, he probably spent a good bit of his days on set reacting to a green tennis ball — he’s really starting to come across as a charisma-free zone to me.

But, that being said, everybody here, with the possible exception of Casino Royale‘s Mads Mikkelsen, seems devoid of charisma here, even usual stalwarts like Liam Neeson and Fiennes (both phoning it in, as is brother Poseidon, Danny Huston — But, to be fair, Huston only has one line.) True, handsome/pretty stiffs like Worthington and Arterton so far seem to be shapely blanks no matter what film they’re in. But somehow or another, this movie has the power of Medusa over everyone involved: It just seems to suck the life right out of people. My advice, if it’s not too late: Don’t attempt to look this one in the eyes. By the Gods, save yourselves and turn away.

The Kraken meets Dokken.

Hey, Perseus: Cloverfield called — they want their Kraken back. The Avatar trailer bounty continues with another 300-ish trailer for Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans remake, with Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Pete Postlethwaite, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Jason Flemyng, and Alexa Davalos. Eh, ok. They’re still angling too hard for the meathead demographic imho, but at least they lost that embarrassing “Titans will Clash! tagline from the last go-round.

The Teen Titans.

In today’s trailer bin, director Matthew Vaughn borrows a little bad reputation from Freaks & Geeks to make the case for his adaptation of Kick-Ass, with Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. (So far, so good — from all indications, Moretz’s Hit Girl will steal the show.)

Meanwhile, Sam Worthington takes on big scorpions and sundry other Kraken-like things in the very 300-ish trailer for Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans remake, also with Alexa Davalos, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Gemma Arterton, Pete Postlethwaite, Jason Flemyng and Mads Mikkelsen. Frankly, it sorta lost me with the lousy aggro-whiteboy rock, but ya never know. And “Titans Will Clash!“…ugh. Who were the ad wizards who came up with that one?

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