Tuesday, November 30, 2010

BHUTTO--as in Benazir & family--arrives to further freak us out regarding Pakistan

Pakistan, a troubled country since its inception, is front and center once again in BHUTTO, the new documentary from Duane Baughman (producer/co-director) and Johnny O'Hara (writer/co-director). There's a case to be made that when you divide (or try to) nation states like Korea, Vietnam (the USA -- Civil War, anyone?) or India, generations of dissension and death follow. Pakistan has never recovered from its creation, nor has Bangladesh. India simply continues apace, with its supposed abolition of its caste system proving too often fake. (Wikileaks might focus its concentration for a time on this part of our troubled globe.)

In Bhutto, Baughman (left) and O'Hara (below, right) focus their concentration primarily on the cool and beautiful, intelligent and commanding Benazir (shown on poster, above, and at bottom), the eldest child of former Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who, though educated abroad, returned to her country (again and again) and, as Prime Minister, continued trying to achieve the goals of her father. Their film begins with what appears to be an assassination attempt, tracks back to Benazir's and her family's history, brings us up to that beginning point -- and then moves on to further death and disarray.

The filmmakers are clearly in Benazir's corner, so what we get is a certain amount of hagiography, even though they do interview, though not at length, her niece, daughter of her late and deeply estranged brother, who died under circumstances still mysterious, the fault for which the niece lays pretty directly at Benazir's feet. Mention, too, is made of the charges of corruption leveled at Benazir, then later dropped by Pakistani President (military near-dictator and Benazir's biggest political rival) Pervez Musharraf (shown below), perhaps to coax Benazir back to Pakistan, where she could more easily be "taken care of" (my conjecture). I wish we had learned more about these corruption charges. Perhaps later. (Wikileaks again, please!)

As this history and tale unfold, we hear a lot from the likes of one of the lady's best friends throughout her education and career, Peter Galbraith; from her daughters; from writers/scholars such as Resa Aslan and Tariq Ali; even some words from one in our penultimate administration's stable of incompetents and liars, Condoleezza Rice (shown below).

By far the most interesting and even moving segments feature the man -- playboy Asif Zardari, shown below -- to whom Benazir wed in an arranged marriage that appears to have "taken" quite spectacularly, blossoming into a family filled with love and support. And wealth. Zardari, said to be among the richest men in the country, is now also its President.

Consistently interesting and challenging, the film proves an education of sorts, slanted and/or colored as it may be. You come away from it with renewed respect for, and plenty of unanswered questions about, Benazir and her bunch -- and with a deepening sense of tragedy regarding the future of Pakistan. The filmmakers tack on a number of updates at the end of their movie, which, I suspect, are meant to reassure us. I'm not.

Bhutto opens this Friday, Dec. 3, at New York's Cinema Village and Landmark's NuArt in Los Angeles. A number of further playdates have been lined up by the film's distributor, First Run Features. Click here and scroll down to learn if your city is among these.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Henry Jaglom's QUEEN OF THE LOT debuts; Q&A with its striking star, Tanna Frederick

If you're a Henry Jaglom fan (TrustMovies sure is) you won't want to miss his latest attempt to turn today's Hollywood into the glitter capital of yore -- even if QUEEN OF THE LOT is not up to the level of Hollywood Dreams (to which it is somewhat of a sequel) or to last year's lovely Irene in Time (which also starred Jaglom's latest leading lady, the unconven-tional but gifted (she grows on you!) Tanna Frederick. Queen is still entertaining enough and has its fine, funny and tender mo-ments, attenuated as some of these -- & the film itself -- often are.

Seems to me that Jaglom (shown above) would like to create some of that old-fashioned glamor that Hollywood used to hand us by the mile -- the mansions, the swimming pools, the egos, the drama -- but he wants to manage this sweetly and affectionately. The filmmaker doesn't really do satire; he's generally too kind for that. A scene will seem to be making fun of the people on view -- and then, boom, the filmmaker starts identifying with them and becoming one with their foibles and needs.

You don't get real satire or wit from this sort of thing, but you do get something else. And it can be awfully appealing and dear. Which pretty much also describes the effect that Ms Frederick, left, has on me. She's beautiful, but in an offbeat way, and she doesn't seem to mind at all not consistently looking her best (something more Hollywood actresses might take into consideration). And she's vulnerable. My goodness, is she vulnerable! But here, for the first time, we start to see some other sides to her. In Queen she plays Maggie Chase, an up-and-coming starlet with her own TV show and a drinking problem. When a DUI gets her under house arrest (complete with ankle bracelet), the plot, such as it is, sets in motion.

This involves Maggie's current boyfriend (a nice job by Christopher Rydell, above, right) and his family: brother (Noah Wyle, above, left) the pater familias (a very good Jack Heller, whose early scenes are enough to have you quaking in your sneakers), mother (Kathryn Grant), daughter (Mary Crosby), and various underlings and hangers-on (Peter Bogdonovich (below, right), Paul Sand and Dennis Christopher, among them.

Add to this the Jaglom stable of oft-used, awfully-good actors like Zak Norman (below, left) and David Proval (below, right) as a gay couple (Proval has the most surprising scene in the film) and you've got quite a cast.  Now, where is the movie that ought to surround it?

OK: it's here -- in fits and starts. Because some of those starts lead to consistent scenes and a weird kind of arc, you'll probably stick around and feel more kindly than angry toward Queen. But you may wonder why a scene of singing Christmas carols goes on quite so long, or the back and forth banter between Frederick and Mr. Wyle (who makes a lovely leading man, by the way: very smart, quick and 1930s, as I suspect Jaglom wanted) also goes on and on. (For the reason, see the interview with Ms Frederick that follows.)

Those 30s and 40s comedies had damn good dialog, and this is one of Henry's weaker points -- particularly when he appears to be trying to recreate something that approaches those films.  His banter is just OK, and sometimes not quite that. He's better with the quiet, more indirect conversations that tease out their meaning in bits and pieces.

So this is what you'd call a mixed review, yes. But would I have missed the movie? No. Queen of the Lot is already playing on our west coast (Henry's home base) and opens here in New York this Friday, Dec. 3, at the Quad Cinema, after a premier Wednesday evening, Dec. 1, at FIAF's Florence Gould Hall. You can find all the currently-scheduled playdates at this link. Click, go to the right side of the screen and then click on Showtimes.


We talked with Tanna Frederick a couple of weeks ago via phone, and the actress could not have been more gracious, charming and clear-headed (What? Were we expecting oodles of vulvernability? That's why they're called "actresses," TM!) In the following Q&A, TrustMovies' questions appear in boldface and Ms Frederick's answers in standard type.

There’s a scene in Queen in which Noah says that your character seems needy and sweet etc., but that you are really very competent, strong and clear-headed (something like that). 

Yep: that's pretty much what he says.

And then, in the faux-dead body scene, we see this exhibited in spades. It reminded me somewhat of how Naomi Watts handled that wonderful scene in Mulholland Drive. It’s a side of you we haven’t seen before (I haven’t anyway). How was that scene to play for you?

Wow—Naomi Watts and Mulholland Drive: Thank you!

Well, I know, Queen of the Lot and that scene are not up to David Lynch-level, but there is a resemblance -- and a good one.

I thought this scene was really great, and I wanted the color of that particular kind of strength represented in this film. And so did Henry. In my earlier two films with him -- this is true of a lot of his leading ladies – we are very vulnerable. But I think we all really have that inner strength. We have a solid inner core. I have tried to play them that way but never really got a chance to show this. I wanted a switch in this movie. So you must use the ferocity – not in a threatening way. Any woman in this industry is ferocious at her core. We must use this for self –preservation. It's the only thing that can really get you through. You have to use that to stay afloat. I liked being able to reveal that side of her. The audience needs to see this and know, ”Oh, she is strong. She can become grounded when she needs to be.”

You know, growing up in Iowa, I did a lot of drama. I didn’t do much comedy. I didn’t discover I was funny until Henry.  I was used to playing in things like Jean Genet’s The Maids -- and the like.

You grew up in Iowa? Is that why there was a film festival there at which Queen of the Lot was recently shown?

They started a film festival my home towm, so we brought people like Karen Black, David Proval and Zak Norman to the festival. We also went to the Wild Rose Film Festival in Des Moines. I had nothing to do with this fest, so it was particularly nice to win awards there. You know, it's funny because, in the film we make some good fun of Iowa, but the audience didn't seem to mind at all. They were all very jovial about the film, and we ended up getting the audience award.

That's great! Will there be more of these characters in yet another Jaglom movie – because the characters all seem to be quite similar from Hollywood Dreams to Queen of the Lot.

Yes. Henry calls Queen a kind of sequel to Hollywood Dreams. We are getting ready now to start on the third part of this trilogy.

We shot another film called Just 45 Minutes from Broadway- based on Henry’s play that ran out here for one year. You New Yorkers are used to long runs of plays, but not here in L.A. This was so unusual, to run this long. And, you might know that Henry does not allow understudies. He says if any of the actor can’t be in the show, we close it down. If someone gets sick, we don’t do that performance. But we all just stuck it out and performed through sickness and crises, and we kept getting full houses and standing ovations. The title is from the George C. Cohan song. We did a nine-day shoot for the movie, and Judd Nelson replaced one of the actors. Otherwise, the whole original cast is in it.

It took only nine days in total to film?

Yes, and Henry is very intense on set. He gets his reputation as tough on the set from this. But who isn’t – particularly when you have a low budget and must work fast. We all loved this shoot and the play. In fact, we took the play up north to Cambira for a fund-rasier project. We raised money and got the theater in Cambria a sprinkler system. They were suspended from doing any shows because of no sprinklers. So we made this road trip up there, and put it on and raised the money. We did four performances with a big waiting list for every one!

Can we talk about another project of yours, Katie Q?

Yes, that is a film that Ron Vignone has directed. We filmed with Paul Sand Karen Black, David Proval and Zak Norman. We got a great ensemble. It’s a very twisted black comedy. We have a bit left to shoot, and that is our 2011 goal -- to get this out in film festivals and maybe theatrically in 2011. It’s a dark comedic mystery which should be a lot of fun.

I am thinking there will be certian similarities to Henry’s work, since Ron has worked a lot with Henry.

Yes, his and Henry aesthetics are very similar. Henry has edited every one of his films for 17 movies. But Ron edited Queen of the Lot. He’s an amazing editor. You know, it’s more fun, especially in moviemaking, when you have wonderful collaborators. We’re kind of like the 3 Musketeers, working on various project in various stages of development.

Is Tanna Frederick your real name?

Yep – it’s my real Iowa name. I’m Czech and Irish and Danish, and it is thanks to my great, great aunt in Iowa that I have it. She was an au pair, who saved two children of a local dentist from a fire when she was 16. Unfortunately, in the process of saving them, she died in the fire, but she did save the children. When my mother was pregnant, my great grandfatehr asked my mom before she even knew if she was having a girl, to please name her after this great aunt.

Your career and image at this point are rather joined in most of us fans’ minds to Henry’s. Will Katie Q maybe change that a bit (though Ron is also joined with Henry, and the cast looks pretty similar)?

I think Katie Q will maybe be a little like Henry’s films.

Anything new in the offing that does not include Henry/Ron?

I would like to work with other directors, and Henry wants me to work with other directors, as much as I want to, too. Henry has been basically my Selznick, fostering and creating my career. It’s just the matter of the right property coming along at the right time. I’ve been offered some other films with other directors, but at this point I have not felt the need to do other work that I am not really passionate about. There are a lot of things that I am looking at and that are in devlopement with other directors..When I feel the time is right, I will make a film with someone else. I’m sure that time will come very soon. Henry’s movies are becoming more mainstream, and I think we are both getting noticed more. I am asked this question a lot: Do you work exclusively with Henry? And no. But it is what I want to do now. Go after the quality versus the quantity.

There have been little parts in large budget films that I’ve been offered. But I also have promised myself, that if I am going after this dream, something I’ve always wanted, that I will not compromise. I am a stubborn girl, and when my heart isn’t completely into something, I don’t want to do it. And I am certainly not hurting for work, not right now. So I am sort of putzting along at my own pace and enjoying every minute of it.

What was it like working in India (on Rising Shores)?

(She laughs and laughs and laughs at this question.) I had this friend who was a DP on that movie, and he called me up to say "I have five lines for you, if you can play a real estate agent."  This was actually the first movie I really had a part in. But I never met any of the other actors, I don’t even think I met the director. I get credited for this movie and it’s kind of funny. I guess this was like doing a Bollywood movie, but my part was all filmed in Santa Monica back in... 2001 or 2002. The 2nd unit director shot it, I think, and I don’t remember much about it at all.

Any thoughts about your first films: Inescapable or First Impressions?

First Impressions I loved making. That was actually part of the material from which Henry cast me for Hollywood Dreams. That was part of the film that got me that role. This wonderful Jewish kid, Barton Caplan, filmed it, and he was so sweet. It’s a sweet male dating story, abou this young man who goes through a series of dates that don’t work out. Then he meets the women of his dreams – who then suddenly lets out a big fart. I know it sounds awful, but it is kind of charming. I was also appearing in the legitimate theater version of A Safe Place, the play made from Henry's movie, and Henry came to see me in that --- and together with the footage from First Impressions he wanted to cast me in Hollywood Dreams.

Inescapable was my first big role in a movie. But it was not a great film or a great representation of my work. It was one of those films I was really excited about because it was the first film I got paid for. I made $2,000 making that movie, and it was most I had ever been offered. But it did not turn out to be a great film.

While I have you, Tanna, is there anything else you’d like to say: something that you’ve always wanted to talk about but journalists never seem to ask?

Wow—that’s a really sweet question. Let me think. Well, I feel really lucky -- being the sort of being a golden-age-of-Hollywood-phile that I am, being able to work with Henry and with Noah Wylie on Queen of the Lot. There is nothing better than this kind of funny, wonderful romantic comedy from the 40s. Like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or anything with Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant with all that very jaunty, back-and-forth, witty banter. And I feel that with Queen of the Lot is like this – and, oh -- to work with Noah, who is an exceptionally gallant and accommodating actor and partner to work with. I think this will be fun for audiences, too, becasue he and I found a really special connection – with our 40s-type banter and relationship. That is something that I think is hard to find nowawadys in most films. In the 40s they captured this a lot -- in dialog and relationship. But not so much now. Henry was really smart in the casting of this because Noah is amazing. He is an incredibly intelligent guy -- with such a sharp wit!

(All the photos above are from the film itself, except that of Mr. Jaglom, toward the top, which is cribbed from the film's website.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Those new Romanian movies you keep hearing about? See 'em, Dec 3rd thru 5th!

A New Beginning is the theme of of this year's Romanian Film Festival, the 5th annual, to be held here in New York City at the Tribeca Cinemas from Friday, December 3, through Sunday, December 5. Each year, the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York rounds up what is determined to be the best among the most recent of the country's movies, which seem to be -- to TrustMovies' mind, at least -- among the world's best. And darkest. Ever since Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu burst on the scene back in 2005 (in concept and execution, this remains among the great films of all time), Romanian cinema has provided one example after another of top-drawer cinema.  (You can browse the entire festival program -- and purchase tickets -- by clicking here.)

Included in the program will be nine narrative features, three documentaries, five shorts and one film that I guess you might call a rediscovery: Lucian Pintilie's movie from1981, Carnival Scenes, which, upon its initial release, was banned for a decade.  Most of these will be having their New York, if not their entire USA, premieres; only three of the films have been seen here previously -- Tuesday, After ChristmasAurora; and The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu -- and these only at festivals, as none has yet received a theatrical release.

This is a great line-up, and there are two films in particular that I can recommend (being the only ones in the fest I've so far seen). The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (above, and already shown here during this year's NY Film Festival) is the kind of movie that makes you wish you were Romanian -- not so much to have been able to live under the Ceausescu regime but to better follow and understand all the details of this amazing work. Kino Caravan -- a most interesting and surprising narrative film about film that takes place soon after the Communist takeover of Romania -- begins as a comedy (albeit a comedy of fear) then it grows into a kind of love story that turns quite dark. Beautifully acted, especially by the two leads Iulia Lumânare  (below, right) and Doru Boguta (below, left) and written and directed (by Titus Muntean, from a short story by Ioan Groşan), this is a film that keeps expanding, while challenging us to keep up.

The three day schedule is a packed one, and because two theaters are involved, it's probably not possible to see everything. Whatever you choose, though, chances are you'll be rewarded.

Great Italian screenwriter gets her day & due via the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Lovers of post-war Italian cinema -- neo-realism and what evolved from this -- might want to check out the current program of the Film Society of Lincoln CenterScrivere Il Cinema: The Films of Suso Cecchi d'Amico, which plays from November 26th through December 1st at The Walter Reade Theater.

Born Giovanna Cecchi, Suso (shown below) was responsible for many of the finest film of her day -- a day which lasted from 1914 through 2010 (she left us only a few months ago).  Working with and for de Sica (on Bicycle Thieves, Miracle in Milan and more) to Visconti (Senso, Rocco and His Brothers and The Leopard, among others), Antonioni, (Le Amíche) and Monicelli (Big Deal on Madonna Street), her range and interests were wide and her talent deep and true.

The FSLC program gives us the chance to see again some of her best work, perhaps this time viewing the films with a stronger emphasis on her collaborative screen-writing skills. On the program are some movies we rarely have to opportunity to see:  Monicelli's The Passionate Thief starring Anna Magnani, Visconti's Sandra with Claudia Cardinale, and Alessandro Blasetti's Too Bad She's Bad (from 1954 and with Loren and Mastroianni -- before most of us even knew who they were).

Click here for the entire program and then -- go to town!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

DVDebut: Sun/Picker's THE PRICE OF PLEASURE explores the porn explosion

Cinema Libre Studio's current release to DVD -- the hour-long documentary
Sexuality and Relationships-- brings up a subject that has vast ramifications for our society at large. Though its sub-title seems to want to explore what pornography is doing to our sex lives and our significant-other relationships -- and does so, briefly, via a combination of anecdotal evidence and talking heads that belong to both experts (including Robert Jensen) and men/women on (if not of) the street -- the importance of the film, TrustMovies thinks, lies in what it uncovers about our world and the rise in (and "normalizing" of) pornography, not to mention the increasing commodification of sex and women.

The movie but scratches the surface of all that could be said, including what is beginning to seem like a return, where women are concerned, to the virgin-and-whore syndrome (Choose your poison, ladies. Or let the guys do it for you). Yet that surface is replete with so many important notions about what pornography is doing to our minds, souls and wallets that this film from Chyng Sun (pictured at right)
and Miguel Picker (shown at left) is consisently engaging. The most important facts and figures offered by the film arrive early on: Pornography is a business that brings in between ten and fourteen billion dollars annually. According to the documentary, media giants such as Time Warner, CBS and News Corp collectively earn one billion dollars each year from porn -- though they hide this fact as well as they can -- by either directly distributing it, producing it or cross-promoting it via their holdings. There was a time when pornography was considered at least seedy, if not illegal (I would prefer not to go back to those days), but now it is simply the unspoken part of our cultural and economic mainstream.

In The Price of Pleasure, we visit a "SEXPO" (shown above: that's a Sex Expo to you uninitiated) and watch as a fellow photographs the nether regions of a young blond. We see the porn industry's official "Academy Awards" ceremony and hear porn magnets (men, of course) tell us that their industry gives young women a real choice about where they work and what they do. "When your best choice," snaps back an academic who has investigated the scene, "is shoving sex toys inside of yourself, then we'd better look more carefully at the available 'work' choices."

The film looks into porn as a "rite of passage" for young women -- yikes -- together with the constantly upped violence quotient along for the ride. One pornographer notes that, try as one might, you can't get away from the "power" thing, and the way that gender factors into this. The future of American porn, opts another, is violence. When we see examples of this, the images look like nothing so much as the shots we saw a few years back of the torture of imprisoned civilians in Iraq -- with hot-looking women standing in for Muslim men.

Which brings us to the wider connections this short movie may make in our already befouled and befuddled brains. To watch The Price of Pleasure is to be reminded yet again of what's happening in our country at large: Lies, from the swift-boating a couple of elections past to just about anything out of the mouths and minds of the Republican Party, in which, if necessary, black becomes white and day night to prove the "truth" of some new lie. Hypocrisy and denial are staples of how we human beings live, Democrats included, second only to our need for food, water and shelter. But raised to the higher power that they they currently hold, how long before pornography becomes the recommended replacement for love and affection?

TrustMovies freely admits, by the way, that, while he does not seek it out, hardcore stuff -- gay or straight -- does indeed turn him on. For a time. But a little goes a long way, and any connection to violence turns him off quicker than a punch in the scrotum. Some hardcore images arise in The Price of Pleasure, but linked as they are to the accompanying condemnation, I think few will find a turn-on here. The film -- from Cinema Libre Studios and unrated -- is for adults, all right. But thinking adults only. It will be available this coming Tuesday, November 30, for sale rather than rental, it seems, as I cannot locate it on either Netflix or Blockbuster.

Friday, November 26, 2010

DVDebut: Survival thriller DEADFALL TRAIL premieres via GoDigital Media Group

In these times of great change in the way we're watching movies, it's always a pleasure to welcome a new film distributor to the mix, so let's hear a loud shout for the GoDigital Media Group -- whose first film (that TrustMovies has seen, at least) DEADFALL TRAIL is premiering now. TM would recommend not viewing the trailer for this film, however, because it represents the movie as something -- a fast-paced, violent, bloody and perhaps more-intelligent-than-usual thriller about survival -- to which the film itself does not rise. Indeed, the occasional violence and blood do pop up, but the film is extremely slow-paced and not, perhaps, as intelligent as it would like to be. Had he not seen that trailer and consequently expected something rather different, TM might have accepted the movie on its own terms a little more easily and enjoyed it more heartily.

Trailers these days are generally to be avoided, as they ruin a film either by mis-representing it or by showing you all the best parts so that, when you finally see it, you have that gnawing sense of déjà vu. Directed and co-written by the one-moniker moviemaker Roze (shown at right), the film does have some good things going for it: three decent leading men, attractive and believable in their relatively well-defined roles -- along with dialog that's also believable and not overly-expository. The movie's initial pacing is relaxed and smart, too, and as the three meet and go off into the "wilds" of Arizona -- I guess to prove their mettle and maybe to try to outshine one another -- we settle in for some fun and scares.

Once into the wilderness, problems pop up, some of which we could see coming from the short intro we get to each of the three men, others created by the clash of personalities of these guys, well-played by the three actors. Most impressive is Shane Dean, as Julian, below, shown in one of his out-of-body (not to mention mind and clothes) experiences,

...while Cavin Gray Schneider (below) is the relatively untutored sweetie-pie of the group, Paul, who manages with aplomb both innocence and the rather immediate necessity-to-learn.

Slade Hall (shown below in bad make-up), playing John, the friend to both men who arranges their unfortunate meeting, has the least of the roles, for reasons that will become clear midway.

Other than the unfortunate pacing of the movie -- slow, slower, slowest -- a number of other problesm crop up. Roze has broken his film down into title cards that read Day 1, Day 2, and so forth. We're starting to grow restless well before we reach Day 9 or 10 -- and trust me, there are a lot more days to come. Then our questions start popping up. Why the hell would John even bring Paul on this trip? What are these guys doing for food? (We see them scrounging for water, including the old Waterworld standby, urine-sipping, and though they eat a bug or two and kill a rodent and -- as I recall -- a rabbit, this in no way convinces. A little catching-our-meals montage along the way would have come in quite handy.)

There also a question of why teeth, particularly those of Mr. Schneider, are so very bright throughout. I know actors want to look good, but isn't it up to the director to yell, "Cut! -- and get some dirt on those dentures." This may seem nitpicking, but the movie's slow pacing gives one plenty of time to pick. A peyote trip? Just now? And what happened to that wild boar, for which the signature trap (and the movie's big event) is set up?  Finally, the suspense is not helped by a seemingly endless, back-and-forth, "who's-on-top?" countdown to the finale.

The ending is actually a good one, taking the film into new territory, yet the movie will have probably lost you long before. Which is a shame because there's some interesting stuff here -- but in the way that it is linked, and in some of those all-important details, things simply do not add up.

Available now for sale via Amazon and elsewhere but not apparently ready for rental at either Netflix or Blockbuster (you can "save" it at the former site, but the latter seems never to have heard of the movie), Deadfall Trail will also be, the distributor tells us, premiering digitally via iTunes in mid-to-late December.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving -- and this year's turkey is... INCEPTION on Blu-Ray

Last year's Christmas turkey, movie-wise, was the arrival of Four Christmases on DVD.  This year, for an even more timely turkey, the award goes to INCEPTION, which TrustMovies finally got around to viewing a couple of weeks prior to its December 7 debut on Blu-Ray and DVD. Millions may disagree, as the movie has already raked in close to a billion dollars at the worldwide box-office, but TM stands behind his opinion of Inception as one sorry excuse for storytelling.  All about special effects, the film uses near-constant CGI stuff designed to dazzle us to death. Individually, some of its effects are fun (for awhile), but collectively they don't hold a candle to the single big Tsunami scene in Eastwood's Hereafter.

Writer/director Christopher Nolan, left, still has trouble staging intelligent action scenes. They waddle and wobble. It doesn't matter as much here, though, because most of the movie is a dream, or a dream within a dream (within a dream). Consequently, we immediately imagine that nothing much is at stake, since the protagonists can always wake up and make things OK.  But no: Nolan gives us reams of exposition in order to explain his "rules of engagement."  For awhile, this is so silly that it's rather endearing. And then, because we simply can't begin to care, even a poop, about any of these characters (none of them have a character), our interest wanes, our patience wears thin, thinner, then -- pop! -- annoyance sets in. This grows into something like anger, as the film runs an unconscionably long two-and-one-half hours.

If you are going to make a movie that dwells mostly in dreams, I would suggest that you make some attempt to capture the sense of the dream state. There are many approaches to this but Nolan doesn't try any of them. Instead, everything looks slick and glossy and "special effecty" rather than off-kilter yet real (or maybe on-kilter but somehow unreal) in the way that dreams manage it. There's little that seems genuinely hallucinatory here; it's all ooooh-look-at-that!

After Shutter Island and now this one, Leonardo DiCaprio (above, center) might consider a moratorium on playing grief roles without a character to attach them to. He's still pretty enough, but god, he's growing glum and boring. Michael Caine has a throwaway role (and Pete Postlethwaite even more of one); Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy (above, left) and Marion Cotillard, play pretty much single notes in parts that allow nothing more. Only Ellen Page (below), Tom Hardy (this, remember, is the guy who did the title role in Bronson!) and Dileep Rao bring some sense of fun and energy to the proceedings. They prove very nearly the only saving graces on view.

As to the Blu-Ray transfer, it's nothing special and consequently rather disappointing.  The scene with Page and DiCaprio in Paris with mirrored doors is nice, and certain other shots are semi-spectacular. But Nolan's attempts at suspense -- cutting back, again and again and again, to a car going over a bridge in slo-mo -- are exasperatingly laughable. Despite the movie's very high "concept," by the finale (massive gun-play and explosions), the far too-heavy hand of been-there/done-that hangs all over Inception. What a waste of time.