New on DVD: Inception, Restrepo, Shrek Forever After

(Capsule reviews by Ernest Hardy, Nick Pinkerton and Ella Taylor)

Inception Inception is a chilling trip into the psyche...of writer-director Christopher Nolan, an action director who shattered the Tomatometer with The Dark Knight. Nolan's follow-up offers more muted colors, gift-wrapped themes, and GQ leading men with stockbroker comb-backs--indicators of high-minded artistry, all. Leo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a corporate espionage expert at "extraction": lifting secrets out of targets' minds. Drugging them, then joining them for naptime, Cobb can drop in to guest-star in their dreams, and there pick the locks of his marks' subconscious--often represented as an actual safebox. Cobb is planning his "last job," a mind-cracking with the untested mission of leaving an idea in his mark's head. The target is the heir to a corporate dynasty, Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy), who must be persuaded to abdicate his waiting throne.

Cobb explains his art as "a chance to build cathedrals, entire cities, things that never existed." Those so inclined can follow the script's breadcrumbs and read Inception as a metaphor for the act of artistic creation--but Cobb/Nolan aren't constructing things that never existed. (Fischer Jr. dreams of a car-chase shoot-out in the pouring rain.) As for the would-be-emotional catharsis at the center of Inception, it's based on Cobb's choice: whether to go on permanent vacation with his dream-memory, or to return to real life. Too bad Nolan either can't articulate or doesn't believe in a distinction between living feelings and dreams--and his barren Inception doesn't capture much of either. (N.P.)

148 minutes Rated PG-13

Restrepo

Amid a glut of amped nonfiction films about the U.S. at war, journalists Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger's documentary about their 2007 stay with an American platoon in a Taliban-infested region of Afghanistan raises its voice by lowering it. Stripped almost bare of mood music, input from experts or Army poobahs, this hyper-vérité film belongs to the soldiers whose daily routines it follows as they hole up in a valley that turns them into "fish in a barrel" for Taliban snipers. The warrior drama unfolds organically, without artificial suspense. The film moves to the rhythms of a combat soldier's life in the field, which consists of long periods of unspeakable tedium interrupted by the confused mayhem of battle with an unseen enemy. Were it not punctuated with post-deployment testimony from the absurdly young surviving soldiers back at their base in Italy, the film would unfold almost without formal structure. If

Restrepo

shares the sympathy for its raw young subjects that marks most current films about the U.S. military abroad, it is neither romantic nor sentimental about the impossibly contradictory tasks with which these men have been charged, and the sometimes clueless ways in which they try to maintain good relations with local communities even as they bomb the crap out of their villages. Talk about the fog of war.

(E.T.)

93 minutes Rated R

Shrek Forever After

In this fourth and final installation in the

Shrek

franchise, our green hero feels emasculated by the grind of domesticity (marriage, fatherhood) and worn down by the demands of celebrity. His failure to realize that his is, indeed, a wonderful life leads him to utter a wish for just one day to cavort in his old life of swampy bachelorhood. The wish is granted by the conniving Rumpelstiltskin, whose enforcement of contractual fine-print lands Shrek in a brutal parallel universe in which Rumpelstiltskin rules the kingdom of Far, Far Away with an army of witches as his muscle. There, Fiona (in

Xena

mode) leads an underground resistance movement, Donkey has no memory of Shrek but still steals almost every scene he's in, and an obese Puss walks away with whatever scenes Donkey doesn't. It takes the film a deadly long time to kick in, and when it does, it largely retreads formula: ironic use of pop standards, musical numbers with contemporary choreography played for maximum laughs, risque one-liners. By the middle of the second act,

Forever After

finally finds its groove, becoming mildly amusing (the actors--Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas--are in fine form) but never rising to the inspired heights of the original. And the 3-D effects are so weak as to bring nothing to the table.

(E.H.)

93 minutes Rated PG


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