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 nap time, Cobb can drop in to guest-star in their dreams, and there pick the locks of his marks' subconscious — often represented as an actual safe box. 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 bread crumbs 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. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)
GO KISSES On the run from a dreary Dublin housing project, Kylie and Dylan (played by two nonactors, Kelly O'Neill and Shane Curry, plucked from Irish schools and oozing forlorn defiance) are a latter-day Hansel and Gretel who escape from black-and-white Loachian neorealism into the junky beauty of an urban fairy tale. As the children hitch a boat ride from a kindly immigrant, writer-director Lance Daly dribbles in color until they land in a city teeming with nocturnal life and saturated with a velvety palette that recalls John Carney's lovely 2006 Irish musical romance, Once. Bob Dylan, an unlikely fairy godfather channeled by Stephen Rea, sings the runaways through terrifying encounters with the bogeymen in and around them. Kisses is far from the first, nor will it be the last, movie to suggest that for a growing army of neglected kids, life on the streets may bring more comfort than home does. But Daly is more aware than most that this romantic conceit can only be pushed so far before it starts serving a filmmaker's aesthetic more than it does his subject. Drained anew of color, the movie's ending may be less satisfying than that of Slumdog Millionaire, but it is truer to the tragedy of a generation of children whom we have utterly failed. (Ella Taylor) (Sunset 5)
PREDATORS This Robert Rodriguez–produced sequel goes back into the bush to follow 1987's Predator — a sci-fi horror that put the multimegaton American stud-soldiers of Reagan-era action in the infrared, stalking POV of a higher-tech galactic Superpower. This time, U.S. black ops–turned–soldier of fortune Royce (Adrien Brody, knotty with new muscle) literally plummets into uncharted jungle terrain. Mind-wiped and stranded, he finds a likewise-disoriented gaggle of international bad men yanked from Mexican cartels, the Chechnyan front, Sierra Leonean death squadrons and death row, rounded out by a femme sniper (Alice Braga) and an unarmed comic-relief Topher Grace. Middle-range genre man Nimród Antal (Control, Armored) carries the burden of franchise expectation without undue solemnity, conducting his Dirty Octet through the slow-dawning revelation that they're on a game preserve, handpicked for Predator hunters — then cranking up the grinder. The loyalties and tensions in this hell-is-other-mercenaries premise might have been more deviously rigged. There could be more open pleasure in the exploitation-movie concept (only Walton Goggins' con really basks in villainy). Louis Ozawa Changchien's silent Yakuza suddenly stopping for a samurai showdown makes no sense unless motivated by inscrutable Asian motives. But doing The Most Dangerous Game is, for action directors, what covering "Satisfaction" is to bar bands; if you hit most of the notes, it'll do. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD Hamlet gets the metatreatment in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead, a hipster vampire farce that layers genre goofs over a twisted restaging of the play. That a similar — if less gruesome — spin-off already exists (Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) only adds to the film's antic mash-up vibe. "Doesn't anyone make anything up anymore?" complains Julian (Jake Hoffman), after learning that Theo (John Ventimiglia), a distinctly wan writer who has commissioned him to direct his Hamlet remix, has put an autobiographical spin on the material. All of the riffs are twice and thrice removed, but the effect is lively rather than tiresome, largely on the strength of game performances, Sean Lennon's atmospheric score, and writer/director Jordan Galland's clear affection for his sources. The byzantine plot has Theo, a Romanian letch and stone vampire, staging his version of Hamlet in the hopes of luring the prince himself — who broke the vampire's curse and has been curing the undead for centuries — through the veils of time to finally settle their score. Only the director is safe, and when he starts losing cast members (most memorably a fully committed Kris Lemche in the lead role), some serious stake-driving action — involving Ralph Macchio as a mooky boyfriend and Jeremy Sisto as a chatty detective — must be taken. (Michelle Orange) (Sunset 5)
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE Named for the last good outing by Walt Disney's rodent mascot, this Bruckheimer-produced Apprentice pays homage to Mickey's dancing mops, but draws more from modern road-tested blockbuster elements: Spidey's nerd-turned-superhero wish-fulfillment and Harry Potter's boy wizardry. Nicolas Cage plays Balthazar Blake, a 1,300-year-old understudy of Merlin who finds his long-sought Chosen One in the unlikely form of a skinny NYU physics student, Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), who'll have to cram magick lessons so as to help Balthazar stop a cabal of apocalyptic sorcerers, all while courting a vanilla-indie college-radio DJ (Teresa Palmer). In Apprentice's prologue, a preteen Dave draws King Kong in marker on his school-bus window, so that it lines up to superimpose on the passing Empire State Building. This encapsulates the movie's "Presto!" playfulness with effects ("It's been a while since I've seen the Hungarian mirror trick ...") and the free way it has with New York City: Dave's massive Tesla coils fill his dungeon-lab, an abandoned subway turnabout; a Chinatown New Year's dragon, the Wall Street bull and the stainless-steel eagles from the Chrysler Building all come to life. Cage will likely not earn a second Oscar here, but he and director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) make leftovers into fine PG malarkey with their hokey naïveté and prankish hocus-pocus. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)
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GO WE ARE THE MODS Writer-director E.E. Cassidy's We Are the Mods delicately fuses standard tropes of the coming-of-age tale (first kiss; new and imploding friendships; raucous house party when the folks are away) with the art-house/foreign-film sensibilities of her precocious L.A.-based teen characters. (The film directly references Antonioni's Blow-Up, which Cassidy cites as an influence.) She's created a rare American film to tackle female teen sexuality, its joys and disasters, with frankness sans condescension or heavy-handed tragedy. Sadie (Melia Renee) is a sheltered, slightly femme tomboy and budding photographer with a crush on her best girlfriend — who shoves Sadie aside to be part of their high school in-crowd. Enter sultry transfer student Nico (Mary Elise Hayden), all heavy eyeliner, swinging mod clothes, a too-cool older boyfriend and a medical disability she works like an accessory. Soon Nico comes to be Sadie's muse, introducing her to foreign films, underground clubs, cigarettes and cocaine, all while stoking the sapphic energy that crackles between them. Cassidy gets fantastic performances from her cast, cloaking them in visuals that pay homage to her cinematic heroes. She's also smart about the intricacies of friendships between teen girls — the idol worship, competition and, in this case, the queer underpinnings at work. An impressive feature debut. (Ernest Hardy) (Downtown Independent)