INCEPTION: I went to the movie theater for the first time in AGES to check out Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” I’m not really into big-budget, full-of-special-effects-wizardry blockbusters, but the concept (the line between reality and dreams) sounded interesting, and I wanted to check it out. It definitely grabs your attention early on, that’s for sure. The execution is every bit as grand as the concept, and the movie develops one layer after another, until it’s almost exhausting to watch all of them play out at the same time. In the end, I’m glad I watched it. The performances are great (Leonardo Dicaprio has officially grown up from a Boy Wonder into a bonafide Movie Star), the visuals are striking, and the story leaves you with a lot to think about, especially on how reality is a concept we create for ourselves, just like we do we in dreams. The one thing that you may find either really interesting or as in my case (really annoying) is the ending. Let’s just say it will probably leave your head spinning and spinning. For me, I just decided to take the simplest explanation possible and just leave it at that. TOMMYLAND RATING: B.
HARD CANDY: A couple of days before seeing “Inception,” I watched this film at home, and it took me some time before I realized the same actress–Ellen Page–starred in both (she’s a couple of years older and her hair’s a lot longer in “Inception”). In “Hard Candy,” she’s not creating dream landscapes. No, sir. Instead, she’s creating a hellish trap for a hotshot photographer whom she believes to be a child molester, using herself as bait. Basically, it’s like a fictional version of those Dateline NBC specials where they get a sexual predator to show up at some house and then take them away in handcuffs (it was great television in a train-wreck-can’t-help-but-look kind of way). It’s an interesting idea, but it turns into a paper-thin cartoon pretty early on and never recovers. Ellen Page’s character is some sort of a pre-teen version of Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2,” and I never bought her fully as a true-to-life character. And the whole, will-it-ever-end “castration” scene is just painful to endure. I mean, not as bad as castration itself, I grant you, but still! TOMMYLAND REVIEW: C-.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN: Vampires and teen romance. Thinking of “Twilight” yet? Well, forget that, because this Swedish film kicks “Twilight”s ass in every way possible. The story here is both familiar and simple. Young Swedish boy slowly develops a friendship with an unusually pale neighbor kid who’s kind of weird but can solve the Rubik’s Cube with no problem. Before too long, he wants to be her boyfriend, but then it turns out she’s a vampire with all the ensuing baggage (drinks blood, can’t eat candy, has to stay out of sunlight, etc.). So far, this sounds like every cliche-filled vampire movie ever made. But “Let the Right One In” somehow turns it all into poetry, mixing in a sweet, honest coming-of-age story with the requisitie gore and bloodletting. It really gets to the human (and apparently also vampiric) need for love and acceptance, and I couldn’t help but cheer for the young couple, despite all the obvious compatibility problems they’ll have down the line. TOMMYLAND REVIEW: A+.
VALENTINE’S DAY: This collection of bite-sized love stories is the American equivalent of “Love Actually.” Of course, a couple of changes have been made. The characters have all become annoying and paper-thin caricatures. And every situation has become a walking sitcom cliche to be resolved in a nice, oh-so-cute-let’s-now-all-throw-up manner to make us all feel cuddly inside. Please. I kept thinking to myself, ‘This is a movie made either for stupid people or to make smart people feel stupid.’ Either way, it’s pure drivel. TOMMYLAND REVIEW: F.
I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS: Jim Carrey plays a gay (or as he calls it, “Gay, gay, gay!”) con man who steals and lies his way to living the good life. He ends up in the slammer, where he comes across sweet-and-innocent-can-be Ewan MacGregor and falls head over heels in love. After that, there’s lie after lie, con after con, and escape after escape. It’s all meant to be a gee-whiz-what-a-character study along the lines of “Catch Me If You Can,” but the big problem is that the main character is just too damn annoying. Jim Carrey’s capable of subtle, nuanced dramatic performances (The Truman Show, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but here, he’s been allowed to overact and make all kinds of goofy faces to his heart’s content, and it leaves you wishing, if not the death penalty, at least for a court-mandated vow of silence. TOMMYLAND RATING: D.
THE RAMEN GIRL: Brittany Murphy (rest in peace) stars in this one as a young American woman who follows her boyfriend to Japan only to see him cut her loose at the first chance possible, leaving her high and dry in a foreign land. After all the requisite crying and moping, she ends up at the little noodles restaurant across the street, where a bowl of ramen brings her much-needed joy and spirit (hey, it’s worked for me on many a cold winter night!). She promptly decides that ramen noodles are her future and her calling, and she pesters the gruff Japanese chef into becoming her ramen sensei. Nothing from then on is all that surprising. Brittany and the chef squabble on and on and fret about not understanding each other’s language (this gets old pretty fast), and of course she ends up learning that ramen cooking has to come “from the heart,” and in the end, in true Mr. Miyagi fashion, they become lifelong friends and teach each other a lesson about life and all that. Still, despite all the cliches, there’s a charm to the story that elevates it from being just a “Lost in Translation” wanna-be. Maybe it’s because the film never tries to pretend it’s any more important than it is. Or maybe it’s Brittany’s plucky, googly-eyed performance. Or most likely, it’s because I just love ramen myself. After watching this movie, I went right out for some ramen of my own, and that’s got to count for something, right? TOMMYLAND RATING: C+.