The Kids Are All Inception (Weekly Links)

Dude could use some sleep: DiCaprio in Inception

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week.

Inception. “Engrossing and gimmicky.”

The Kids Are All Right. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

There are kids in “The Kids Are All Right,” a movie title cribbed (with spelling corrected) from a classic Who song. But you get the feeling the title refers to everybody in the film, not just the teenagers.

Writer-director Lisa Cholodenko’s warm and funny movie (co-written with Stuart Blumberg) exudes empathy for all concerned—everybody here is bumbling through life, sometimes rising to the occasion, sometimes doing the wrong thing.

The teenagers are Joni (Mia Wasikowska, “Alice in Wonderland” herself) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson); they have two mothers, longtime partners Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore). Joni and Laser have gotten curious about the sperm donor whose biological imprinting they carry, the unknown, nameless person who allowed their mothers to get pregnant all those years ago.

And when that guy, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a bohemian restaurateur, enters this family’s world, things get a little weird. And we have the excuse to examine a batch of well-drawn characters in detail.

If your interest lies in politically-correct characters who fit into cardboard-cutout shapes demonstrating how people should behave, well, Cholodenko has failed you completely, and you should probably see a different movie. This filmmaker, who made “High Art” and “Laurel Canyon,” has no interest in fulfilling expectations of how characters ought to act.

But what wonderfully rich and well-spoken characters these are. Although Annette Bening has perhaps played too many sourpusses lately, Nic is a very specific, control-oriented physician, the person in the household who’s gotten used to making everything run on time. And she needs to, given Jules and her uncertain, post-hippie dithering. Julianne Moore is terrific at making Jules equal parts exasperating and fun—and when she makes a particularly huge misstep midway through the film, she makes you believe it comes from an all-too-human choice, not a screenwriter’s need to add spice to the story.

As for Mark Ruffalo (late of “Shutter Island”), I can only say that his performance is one of the most completely lived-in examples of the species Man-childus americanus I have ever seen in a movie. Sleeping with his employees and riding his motorcycle, he’s nobody’s idea of a role model, yet Ruffalo inhabits this dude with such hang-loose good cheer that you easily understand why people are drawn to him.

Ten years ago a movie like this probably would have taken the form of an “issue film,” a study of gay parenting or something. But “The Kids Are All Right” takes gay parenting as a given, with some particular challenges but basically the same as any other kind of flawed, well-meaning, happy/sad kind of parenting. Not worse or better, but all right.

Restrepo. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

One of the soldiers included in the war documentary “Restrepo” says, months after the combat action in the film has ended, that he prefers not to sleep, if possible. If he’s not asleep, then he can’t have dreams.

The audience for this raw movie might feel the same way. Shot over the course of a year by experienced journalists (first-time filmmakers) Sebastian Junger and Tim Hethertington, “Restrepo” attempts an entirely neutral, fly-on-the-wall approach to depicting a pocket of the war in Afghanistan.

The place is the Korengal (also spelled Korangal) Valley, a mountainous region not far from the Pakistan border, which doesn’t look like the customary desert scrub of much war reportage. According to the film, it is one of the most dangerous postings in the war. Junger and Hetherington took their video cameras and made five visits (each a month long) to the site between May 2007 to June 2008, the length of battle duty for the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Korengal.

There is no narration for the film, although the soldiers are occasionally seen in their post-duty interviews, recalling the hardship and tedium and camaraderie that made up their stint.

The film itself is somewhat repetitive at first—perhaps intentionally?—as we see the rituals of life. Skirmishes come and go, without apparent strategic gains or losses (though lives are lost—the company names its new outpost Restrepo for a well-liked soldier killed early in the deployment), and negotiations are made with local authorities.

A farmer’s dead cow becomes an issue, and the lack of satisfactory conclusion to the incident is a parable of short-sightedness—one of those tiny, unimportant things that seem to represent larger strategic problems. One central battle is described by the soldiers without footage, although we then witness the traumatic aftermath. These scenes—of sudden death, the realization of it, and the nakedly emotional responses of men in the moment—are images not commonly witnessed on movie screens.

The pep talk that follows, where the platoon’s captain urges his guys to use their anger over their losses to go out and kill more of the enemy, is presented without editorial emphasis. To some it might be as inspirational as countless such scenes have been in fictional war movies. To others it might be a hollow call to continue expensively rolling a stone up a hill even if the stone will roll right back down to the bottom again.

Either way, see the movie. It will bring home the realities for (and the toll on) the very human people sitting in war zones right now.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. “Cheerfully familiar.”

Perrier’s Bounty. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

The jokery contained in “Perrier’s Bounty” is rarely slowed by flying bullets or the spilling of blood—just one of the many problems with this derivative Irish action-comedy.

It’s the old story of a regular bloke, Michael (played by Cillian Murphy), who needs to pay back a large amount of cash in a short amount of time. How many movies have used that plot for suspense?

If a reason is given for Michael’s loan, I missed it; it’s just a given, as is the idea that Michael seems like a nice enough guy except for his vague brushing-up against the Dublin underworld. We certainly don’t know anything else about him.

The big boss is Perrier (Brendan Gleeson), but most of the time Michael is being chased by one henchmen or another. Along with this basic chase structure, Mark O’Rowe’s script invents three peculiar complications.

First, Michael’s father (Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent) shows up, broke but otherwise seeking to bond with his son. Frazzled and strung-out, he’s refusing to sleep because he’s convinced the Angel of Death will take him as soon as he slumbers.

Then Michael gets mixed up in a kooky blackmail scheme plotted by a gangster (Liam Cunningham, “Clash of the Titans”), which really could get him the money he needs to pay off his debt.

Finally, Michael’s downstairs neighbor gets directly involved in shooting one of his pursuers—the one moment in the film that carries a bit of a jolt. She’s played by Jodie Whittaker, who starred opposite Peter O’Toole in “Venus” and has an offbeat delivery.

Cillian Murphy, also on view this week in a very different role in “Inception,” does his best with a part that almost doesn’t exist except to give the story a central character. Demerits, however, for his very weak beard.

With brash, tough actors such as Gleeson, Broadbent and Cunningham around, this movie ought to offer some oomph. Gleeson, that burly, ginger-haired marvel, brings echoes of “In Bruges,” another violent-funny-profane Irish picture.

Alas, the comparison is devastating. If you haven’t seen “In Bruges,” go rent it. “Perrier’s Bounty” gathers some pleasant-enough actors together, but beyond that its sarcasm seems rather hollow.

Killing Kazstner. “We hear it from the man who assassinated him.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about Restrepo and war movies, hear from some vets calling in, and think about the battle scene in Forrest Gump in a new way: here. The movie bit kicks in around 14 minutes in.