Arts + Scene » Filmland

Très Jolie

Plus: Last week's Inception review ... was it just a dream?

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Previews

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS. Director Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents) starts with the premise from the French comedy Le Diner de Cons: Upscale businessmen compete to bring the most mock-worthy schmuck to dinner. Tim (Paul Rudd) joins the game to curry favor and finds wacky Barry (Steve Carell from The Office), who uses stuffed mice to recreate scenes from great literature. Or does Barry find him? Zach Galifianakis and a few other familiar comedy faces up the general zaniness factor. 110m. Rated PG-13 for sequences of crude and sexual content, some partial nudity and language. Opening Friday at the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

CATS & DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE. Sequel to the talking animals flick Cats & Dogs has hairless Sphynx Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler) trying to take over the world with the help of mice. The spy spoof has German Shepherd Diggs (James Marsden) and his buddy, Butch (Nick Nolte), leading the good guy dogs, teaming with their cat enemies to stop the evil plot, all in 3D. Rated PG for animal action and humor. 82m. Friday in 3D at the Broadway and the Fortuna, at Mill Creek in 2D.

CHARLIE ST. CLOUD. Teen heartthrob Zac Efron (High School Musical) stars in a film adaptation of Ben Sherwood's novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, about a young man haunted by the death of his younger brother and enchanted by a girl (Amanda Crew) who may or may not be alive. 109m. Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality. Opening Friday at the Broadway and Mill Creek

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Director Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon, High Art) co-wrote this tale of modern parenting. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a lesbian couple whose kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), both have the same anonymous sperm donor dad (Mark Ruffalo). Things get complicated when he comes into their lives. 104 m. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use. Opening Friday at the Minor.

The Arcata Theatre Lounge Wednesday Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night moved to Thursday last week without our noticing. The upshot: Prehistoric Women and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women are showing on July 29. Saturday the ATL has Terry Gilliam's twisting sci-fi tale 12 Monkeys, inspired by Chris Marker's short La Jetée. Bruce Willis stars as a time traveler trying to save the world from a plague. Brad Pitt is the wild and crazy leader of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. Sunday it's Rob Reiner's fantastic comic fantasy The Princess Bride, starring, among others, André the Giant, who, I'm told, has a posse.

-- Bob Doran

Reviews

SALT. Scarlett Johansson had her shot in Iron Man 2, and now Angelina Jolie gets her turn in Salt. As it turns out, it's no contest. I am ready not only to nominate Jolie for Best Action Kick-Ass performance in 2010, but also to declare her the instant winner.

This much-hyped film actually lives up to its press, if what you are looking for is non-stop action entertainment. As in the most successful action films, director Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American) doesn't let the viewer have time to think about the improbabilities of the narrative. Perhaps when you're reflecting on the film later you might start realizing you've been duped into accepting any number of gross improbabilities, but none of those matter while experiencing it.

Besides the well-paced sequences, there are enough plot twists to distract the viewer from reality. Then, too, there is Jolie, who is backed by a fine cast that includes Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film also benefits by a timely release, harkening back as it does to the Cold War days, which gives it a nice parallel to the recent arrest and deportation of Russian moles who had been living here for some 10 years.

The story clearly pays homage to The Manchurian Candidate, involving a group of moles trained when children in Russia and sent to the US to bring the country down on "Day X." After a brief pre-credits back-story where we see CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Jolie) being tortured by North Koreans, the main narrative begins two years later. Salt is now married to German arachnologist Mike Krause (August Diehl) and working a desk job at CIA headquarters with colleague Ted Winter (Schreiber).

A "walk-in" claiming to be a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski) says he knows about a mole in the CIA who will initiate the Day X operation. Salt is asked to interrogate him. Orlov then reveals the mole's name as Evelyn Salt, the lie detector says he is being truthful and the troubles begin.

Agent Peabody (Ejiofor) tries to arrest Salt, but she turns out to be more resourceful than James Bond at his best. There follows a series of chase scenes involving Salt leaping onto moving trucks, rappelling down elevator shafts and performing other feats of derring-do, all the while claiming she's being framed.

Sure, this is all standard spy thriller stuff, but Jolie, who did her own stunts -- take that, Scarlett -- totally commits herself to the action. I may not remember the film much a few months from now, and I have no desire to see it again, but it sure was fun watching. If I have to have my butt kicked, I hope Jolie is available for the job. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action. 100m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and the Fortuna.

INCEPTION (REVISITED). In my review last week I mentioned that I might revisit Inception. So I dutifully went to see it again and, indeed, some elements became clearer. I'm not sure this is a good thing, since the film deliberately seeks to withhold information so that the viewer cannot easily connect the dots until the end, if then.

What does seem clear is that beneath the complicated plot twists there is a straightforward story driving the narrative. The central character, Cobb (DiCaprio), who has been accused of killing his wife Mal (Cotillard), has fled the States and cannot return. All he really wants is to go home to his two children.

It's the nature of his path back that leads to the many layers of this beautifully accomplished film. He can't go home until his name is cleared. A powerful person who can accomplish that (Saito, played by Ken Watanabe) won't make the call until Cobb, who specializes in entering people's dreams and stealing information, implants an idea into the mind of a rival's son (Cillian Murphy).

But the process of inception involves going deeper than a dream, and in each level down, the whole construct becomes more unstable. Cobb cannot design the dreams because Mal lurks in his subconscious. Is he stable enough to lead his team through this task or will his projection of Mal prevent him from seeing clearly?

Certainly, the notion that reality and dream are often indistinguishable is not new. In 1635, Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca wrote Life Is a Dream, which utilizes this very premise. Director Christopher Nolan's accomplishment is to embed this concept into an action/heist film without dumbing-down its intellectual potential.

What I noticed this time through is that what grounds the film is the cool and sane presence of the young student Ariadne (Ellen Page), who is a genius with dream architecture. Like her namesake, she is there to help guide Cobb out of the labyrinth that is his own creation.

Does Cobb make it home? Well, the final image, a spinning top on a table, is the only clue you will get. I can say that the film was even more exhilarating the second time around. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout. 148m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and the Fortuna.

 

Continuing

 

DESPICABLE ME. Can cute kids turn an evil madman (voiced by Steve Carell) into a good guy? Rated PG. 95m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

GROWN UPS. Adam Sandler reunites with childhood friends to celebrate maturity ... not! Rated PG-13. 113m. At the Broadway.

KILLERS. Ashton Kutcher as a former assassin gone domestic with Katherine Heigl. Rated PG-13. At the Garberville July 27-29.

THE LAST AIRBENDER. Air, Water, Earth and Fire can't stop M. Night from Shyamalaning all over this film. Rated PG. 108m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME. Jake Gyllenhaal as a royal video game icon. Rated PG-13. At the Garberville July 23-26.

RAMONA AND BEEZUS. That irrepressible tyke from the Beverly Cleary books conspires to save family home, irritating older sister in the meanwhile. Rated G. 104m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

SORCERER'S APRENTICE. Old magic dude recruits young magic dude to, ummm, battle evil. Nic Cage's most Mickey Mouse role to date. Rated PG. 109m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

TOY STORY 3. Woody and Buzz toy around for the first time in over a decade when their kid prepares for college. Rated G. At the Broadway.

TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE. Team Edward! No, Team Jacob! What's a girl to do? Rated PG-13. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

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