‘Inception’ plays intelligent tricks with dreams

Posted July 22, 2010, at 5:09 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Cobb in Warner Bros. Pictures? and Legendary Pictures?
sci-fi action film ?Inception,? a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION.
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO as Cobb in Warner Bros. Pictures? and Legendary Pictures? sci-fi action film ?Inception,? a Warner Bros. Pictures release. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION.

In theaters

INCEPTION, Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, 148 minutes, rated PG-13.

The new Christopher Nolan movie, “Inception,” is a trick, but it isn’t a gimmick.

The film, which Nolan based on his own script, offers moviegoers something unusual during the summer movie season — intelligence targeted at adults. The movie is complex, it’s ambitious, it’s daring in how it isolates viewers by piling on the layers, and it’s cunning in how it draws them back in when those layers suddenly come together.

This is a movie that turns in on itself — and then in on itself again — until what you’re left with is a kind of compelling confusion of ideas that oddly makes sense as the movie expands into its nearly 2.5 hour running time. If you think “Lost” was complicated, let’s just say it’s kitten chow when compared to this.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a crook who possesses a rare ability. He can access a person’s dreams, lift information they otherwise wouldn’t have shared while awake, and then sell that information to the person in need of it most.

But when Saito (Ken Watanabe) decides he needs something from Fischer (Cillian Murphy), a wealthy man with daddy issues, a new challenge is offered to Cobb — can he plant an idea into someone’s subconscious? Is he able to incept a notion that could, say, bring down one man’s corporation? Cobb can, but he’s uneasy about it. The only other time he incepted led to a person’s death.

For Cobb, who for years has been unable to return to the United States, the catch is that Saito will see to his return if he agrees to his wishes and incepts a dream. Since his children are in the States, Cobb agrees, and inward the movie folds, with so many complications edging into the plot, the best tip I can offer is to pay atten-tion. Nolan likes to play mind games with those who come to his movies, and “Inception” is no exception.

To help make Saito’s wishes a reality, Cobb’s father (Michael Caine) introduces him to Ariadne (Ellen Page), a “dream architect” who has a knack for constructing intricacies that become pseudo-realities. You know, like folding Paris into a neat little box. That sort of thing. Also on board are the smoldering Eames (Tom Hardy); a chemist named Yusuf (Dileep Rao); and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), none of whom is quite prepared for the game changer that is the act of inception. Marion Cotillard is very good as Cobb’s dead wife, who infiltrates his subconscious in ways that could ruin everything for the team if he allows her to push too hard.

“Inception” is a curious movie that satisfies more with its intellect than with any emotion it elicits. With the exception of Eames and Arthur, you don’t necessarily care much for the characters, so it’s difficult to find someone to get behind. That person should be Cobb, but he is such a cold, emotional wreck — and a thief, at that — siding with him is tricky. For your own pleasure, you want the inception to go off, but because you’re not emotionally invested in the people trying to make it happen, the movie pushes you to the sidelines, where you mostly sit back and appreciate the difficult work that went into stitching together Nolan’s impossible narrative.

And there is where the movie wins. Nolan is first and foremost a craftsman, and while what he does in “Inception” might not have the personal heat of “The Dark Knight” or “Memento,” he nevertheless uses the medium here in ways that are fresh and compelling. Some will wish there was less exposition, but others will appreci-ate the sheer amount of thought that went into dissecting the mystery of dreams, how they work to inform “Inception,” and how they ultimately give themselves over to the overall success of the film’s conception.

Grade: B+

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

CLASH OF THE TITANS, directed by Louis Leterrier, written by Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, 106 minutes, rated PG-13.

From director Louis Leterrier, a film that delivers exactly what you expect — well done action pieces blended with jolts of camp that are so over-the-top, you half expect Mount Olympus to be made from one of Joan Crawford’s shoulder pads.

For those who recall the original, overdone 1981 movie, this new version tones things down a bit, but a good deal of its enjoyment comes from the fact that a lot of the ongoing excess is fun to watch because what’s surrounding it is polished, particularly the special effects. It’s easy to be amused by this movie for the wrong reasons, but it’s also easy to admire it for the right reasons.

In the film, all kinds of ugliness is going down between the gods of Olympus and the mortals created by their leader, Zeus (Liam Neeson, gleaming and glistening like a tinsel Christmas tree). Apparently, the mortals are over the gods, so much so that they’re being stingy with their prayers, which the gods feast upon. In an effort to keep the mortals in line, Zeus’ estranged brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), arrives in a clap of black smoke and promises Zeus and the other gods that he’s the one to handle the situation.

Trouble is, Hades has a foe in the demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington), who wants revenge on Hades for killing the family who took him in when he was an infant floating in a sarcophagus with his dead mother at sea (don’t ask). Since Perseus is Zeus’ son, the screenwriters dice into the script traces of Freud that clash with traces of Dr. Phil.

Zeus wants Perseus to join him in the heavens as a god, but Perseus wants none of it. He wants to be a man fighting off brutes in a leather skirt. And so, before he heads off to Chelsea, he curls his lips in defiance and joins the Argos to defeat Hades and the threat of a sea monster called the Kraken. Doing so won’t be easy, par-ticularly since along the way, all sorts of monsters come along to kill them first.

Among them are a few doozies, such as giant scorpions, flying bat-things, the grotesque hissing of the gorgeous Gorgon sisters, a beautifully rousing scene involving a fight against Medusa, and then the Kraken itself, which smashes the hell out of everything around it because it can.

How Perseus must kill the Kraken we’ll leave for you, but it’s fun to watch him try, regardless of the holes in the script and the occasional lapses in logic. This movie is a theme park ride. Those looking for artistry should turn to the special effects, such as the winged horse Pegasus, which is a seamless marvel to behold, particu-larly while in flight. As for the acting, the grunting arrives on cue, people bellow when they should, Hades is a fantastic blast of bombast and Perseus leaps and slashes with ease even if Worthington himself is wooden in the role.

Still, this is an action movie, and the action is just fine.

Grade: B-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and Saturdays in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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