DVD Picks & Passes 12.19.2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010) PASS

Inception (2010) PICK

Shrek Forever After (2010) PICK

New on DVD, Inception is one of the year’s most intriguing films — a brainy, bravura achievement that’s part mind-bending caper flick, part eye-candy sci-fi action movie, and part existential philosophical puzzle. That this daring, challenging picture was even made is a tribute to writer-director Christopher Nolan’s unique blend of creative ambition and populist appeal. He’s one of the most exciting filmmakers in Hollywood today.

The story is about an elite team of identity thieves, led by Leonardo DiCaprio, who hack into a target’s subconscious mind through shared dreams — the ultimate in identity theft.

Inception contemplates how we live in relation to reality and unreality, doubt and leaps of faith, truth and memory, and other minds, as we imagine them and as they really are. It touches on guilt, grief and regret — and how they come to define our world.

It’s also about the relationship between the viewer and the screen world. “Everyone wants catharsis,” a character notes — including the audience. On what terms will we accept it? Is illusory catharsis as good as the real thing? Inception offers provocative food for thought.

For family viewing, Shrek Forever After offers a decent conclusion to the Shrek series — one that pokes fun of, but ultimately affirms, the classic fairy-tale ending, the “happily ever after.”

Married with children, Shrek has been domesticated, and the loss of his ogriety is sinking in. It’s a familiar theme, particularly with echoes from It’s a Wonderful Life, with Rumpelstiltskin as Clarence and Mr. Potter in one.

It won’t make new fans, but Shrek Forever After should satisfy fans of the first two entries, especially those smarting from the third film. Let’s hope DreamWorks is serious about this being the “final chapter.” At some point, happily ever afters should be left well enough alone.

Also new on DVD: Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I’m something of a voice in the wilderness on this one; I see Alice as an instance of the aggrieved feminist narrative of vibrant young girls losing their mojo as they come of age in patriarchal society.

The film is a joint evisceration not only of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, but also of “Jabberwocky,” with Alice recast as a messianic warrior-hero in shining armor destined to claim the fabled “Vorpal Sword” on the fated “Frabjous Day,” waging war against the forces of the Red Queen and ultimately confronting the dragon-like Jabberwocky. If that sounds bearable to you, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Content Advisory: Alice in Wonderland: Mild fantasy action violence and a few moderately scary images; a few mildly suggestive bits. Teens and up. Inception: Much action violence; profanity and crude language; flashbacks of a suicide; sci-fi violation of human dignity. Mature viewing. Shrek Forever After: Mild crude humor and innuendo; mild animated action and battle scenes; scenes of imprisoned or enslaved characters that could be upsetting to young viewers.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.