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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Season ends in blood, sex and dreams”

    Season ends in blood, sex and dreams

    School’s back in session, but you can still sneak a taste of summer this weekend at the movies. Here are the popcorn movies to see (and not see) while the semester is still merciful.

    Inception

    Warner Bros. Pictures

    Released: July 16th

    Gross to date: $262 million

    A truck full of sleeping spies plummets off a watery bridge, a dapper thief shuffles his strung-up friends through a hallway in zero gravity, a snow-capped mountain trembles as gunfire erupts from a fortified hospital and a man sinks deep into his own subconscious to challenge the murderous memory of his dead wife.

    Four overlapping plot arcs build to four overlapping climaxes in the final minutes of “”Inception,”” the newest creation from Batman’s new daddy, Christopher Nolan. Is this an innovation in screen writing, or an excuse to blend the most marketable aspects of multiple genres? Who cares. It’s awesome, either way.

    “”Inception”” is a story of dreams, but not in the sense that “”Free Willy”” is a story of dreams.

    Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a man whose sole occupation is invading the dreams of corporate bigwigs and stealing the secrets they keep there. To do this, he and his crack team of thought thieves must reproduce believable realities within their mark’s soundly sleeping mind until their mental defenses lower to expose their most valuable secrets.

    If you think that sounds ridiculous, that only means you’re in the correct mental posture to enjoy the looping, leaping contours of the introspective “”Inception”” world.

    Like Nolan’s Gotham City, the world of  “”Inception”” is dark and treacherous, but without a moral hero to protect it. Cobb is no Dark Knight: he is a killer, a thief and exploiter of mental weakness. He would be perfectly unlikeable if his dreams were not tortured by the specter of his dead wife, Mal (the lovely Marion Cotillard), who takes every chance she gets to compound his mania.

    After being blackmailed, Cobb is forced to form a team to pull off one last job that involves planting thoughts, not stealing them. This risky process is known as inception (hey, that’s the name of the movie!) and requires delving into dreams within dreams within dreams.

    A plot that begins as a standard heist  becomies a trippy club sandwich of genre blending. Level one of the dream is a Batman-style city assault, level two is suspenseful corporate espionage, level three apes snowy James Bond chases and level four is the dark, psychological turf of “”Shutter Island”” and “”What Dreams may Come.””

    The action is undeniably attractive, and Nolan’s world is as sprawling and believable as anything he’s created to date, but sitting through Cobb’s emotional transformation can prove challenging. Ultimately, it’s hard to care about a man’s relationship to his wife and kids when he makes a living invading thoughts.

    It’s easy to get lost in the depth of the film’s dream worlds, but that’s part of the experience. An ambiguous ending has been the source of frustration for many viewers, but it also provides the incentive to score a second date and see the movie again. “”Inception”” makes dreaming exciting. Just don’t think about it too much.

    Rating: 4/5

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

    Universal Pictures

    Released: August 13th

    Gross to date: $20 million

    Michael Cera wants sex. We know this because we’ve seen “”Youth in Revolt,”” “”Year One,”” “”Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,”” “”Juno,”” “”Superbad,”” and “”Arrested Development.””

    Audiences of “”Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”” can look forward to another two hours of Cera trying to score some pop-pop, but that’s not the only scoring going on. In Pilgrim’s video-game-framed universe, racking up points and defeating opponents are matters of life and certain death.

    It’s easy to condemn the film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “”Scott Pilgrim”” graphic novels to any list of adolescent sex comedies. At the center you’ve got a boy (Cera’s titular Pilgrim) going after a girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s rainbow-haired Ramona Flowers), but impeded by circumstances of escalating wackiness (Bollywood brawls, high school assassins, invulnerable vegans, etc). That’s where the similarities end, and a wild, engrossing experiment in multimedia storytelling begins.

    In order for Scott to win Ramona, he must defeat her seven evil exes, each one representing not only an advance in Scott’s romantic quest, but  caricatures of American sub-culture. A-list action star Lucas Lee is played by a perfectly douchey Chris Evans who encapsulates self-absorbed Hollywood machismo. Gideon Graves, a record executive and leader of the evil exes, is a preening, patronizing hipster whose insincerity oozes out of Jason Schwartzman’s super-thick glasses.

    The video-game-like story progression is already laid out in the film’s premise, but director Edgar Wright (the genre-bending alchemist behind “”Hot Fuzz”” and “”Shaun of the Dead””) keeps the Koopa shell in constant motion. The movie is bloated with references to gaming, including 8-bit Legend of Zelda sound bites and attribute bars that flash on screen whenever Scott takes a piss.

    There’s also a treasury of relics of ’90s youth culture. Seinfeld, Dance Dance Revolution and the grunge movement are all duly referenced — and parodied — throughout the film. All the music for Scott’s band, “”Sex Bob-Omb,”” is composed by ’90s troubadour, Beck and is nothing but addictive.

    Beyond the sometimes-alienating references, though, is a relatable story about the wages of romance. Scott not only has to defeat the league of exes, but also overcome his own history of selfishness. The moments in the film when Scott feels genuine guilt or confusion are the most moving, and they even take a step toward making Micahel Cera seem like a multidimensional actor.

    Sometimes. There’s still no shortage of George Michael Bluth-brand awkwardness.

    Whether you’ll enjoy “”Scott Pilgrim”” depends on whether or not you see the incessant references as gimmicks or bursts of glorious nostalgia. If you’ve never touched a Nintendo, you’ll be annoyed by the movie’s in-your-face interface, but still susceptible to the relatable romance beneath it all.

    Have you ever been in a doomed relationship? Have you ever wanted to combine your love of sex with a love of dueling to the death? See “”Scott Pilgrim.”” Right now.

    Rating: 4/5

     

    The Expendables

    Millennium Films

    Released: August 13th

    Gross to date: $65 million

    Records of our ancestors tell of a great man called John Rambo. He crossed the seas to fight for his people in a dark and war-torn land. With naught but a blade and the company of fellow warriors he defied death in hostile jungles to preserve the values of our homeland, even so far away. And when he returned, he was met not with love and accolades for his bravery, but with shame and ridicule for the violence he wrought — the violence we asked of him.

    Do not forget John Rambo’s legacy. When you watch “”The Expendables,”” do not therefore blame Sylvester Stallone for writing, directing and starring in such a garbled action-porn garbage. Understand, instead, that it was we who asked this of him.

    After two weeks on screen, Stallone’s graceless ensemble action project remains in the number one box office spot. This can be taken as proof of the old Hollywood thesis that all you need to sell a movie is star power — and with names like Stallone (who is 64, BTW), Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and the Governator himself topping the bill, there’s plenty of power.

    You can also take it as some kind of statement about American tastes, priorities — yadda, yadda, yadda — but it doesn’t matter. “”The Expendables”” is as disposable as its name promises, and that’s all it was meant to be.

    The plot is standard “”redeemed warrior”” fare. Stallone, as mercenary kingpin Barney Ross, leads a team of badasses into a Latin American country prone to revolution, challenges a dictator backed by mean corporate American money, fights to save a brave, exotic woman, learns to appreciate the camaraderie of his bros and finds a way to save his murderous soul in the process. Necks get snapped, dudes get shot, buildings get blown up and everyone nods in satisfaction.

    That’s all fine. If only the film stuck to the main action instead of weaving in so many tedious sub-plots. Ten minutes are reserved for Statham trying to win back his weekend girlfriend by pummeling the douchebag she’s been dating in his absence, another good segment is wasted on Jet Li whining about getting extra pay because he’s so short — a rare problem in his monumentally successful martial arts career — and Rourke’s only job on the squad seems to be supplying Stallone with tattoos and motivational speeches about pacifism that contradict the absurd body count racked up throughout.

    But plot is not why we go to action movies. We go for the sex and the ‘splosions. For being a hyper-masculine fantasy, there is a surprising absence of sex in “”Expendables,”” even after Stallone and Statham break all those bones for the gals they love.

    But besides the celibacy, this flick is pure uber-male wish fulfillment. Our mercenary heroes leap into moving planes before dousing the countryside in gasoline and setting their enemies ablaze. They impale, dismember and decapitate foes with enormous computer-generated combat knives. Near a climax that truly challenges preconceptions about how many times a single building can explode, UFC’s Randy “”The Natural”” Couture gets into a brawl with WWE’s “”Stone Cold”” Steve Austin. Spoiler: One of them ends up engulfed in flames.

    So in the end, the “”Expendables”” really is a question of priorities. Are tiresome sub-plots, awkward fellatio jokes and distracting, unnecessary computer graphics worth the aged star power? Many will say no, and many have already said yes. The choice is yours, and that’s the beauty of John Rambo’s America.

    Rating: 2/5

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