In a summer filled with restarts and sequels, “Inception” is a cinematic breath of fresh air. Writer/director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to “The Dark Knight” is a mind-bending thriller that is a complete original, cementing Nolan’s status as one of this generation’s brightest filmmakers.

“Inception” tells the story of Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a skilled thief who is able to enter people’s minds during dreams and extract valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious.

When Cobb is approached by wealthy energy chief Saito (Ken Watanabe) to go into the mind of a son of a rival businessman and plant an idea that will ultimately benefit Saito. Cobb agrees, seeing this as a chance for redemption for past transgressions.

Cobb assembles a team (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page) and sets out to complete the mission - but Cobb’s tragic past with his late wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), rises to the surface, threatening the safety of everyone involved in the job.

While “Inception” deals with some complex dream-like levels, at its core the film is basically a heist film, with some exciting and visually stunning set pieces.

The cast is first rate with everyone from DiCaprio to Page to Michael Caine. Cillian Murphy as the rival businessman’s son gives a solid performance that helps add credibility to this wildly imaginative material.

But the real star is Nolan, who continues to establish himself as one of the top filmmakers of his generation.

Like “The Dark Knight,” Nolan seems to have drawn inspiration from the Michael Mann thriller “Heat.” But this time he’s morphed that idea with the time-shifting premise behind one of his first films, “Memento,” creating a dream world that is as elegant and imaginative as anything in James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

There are also touches of other films throughout - everything from “The Matrix” to “Singing in the Rain” - but make no mistake, this is one of the most original films in recent memory. From the opening frame to the very last shot, Nolan sucks the audience in and creates one of the great cinematic experiences of 2010.

DVD dandy of the week

This week’s dandy is “The Runaways” (B), a solid bio picture about the brief rise and fall of the all-girl punk band from the 1970s.

“Twilight” co-stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning reunite as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, two teenage California girls in 1975 looking for bigger and better things.

Jett (Stewart) comes up with the idea of an all-girl band, pitching it to an eccentric recording agent named Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon in a scene-stealing performance). Fowley introduces Jett to Currie (Fanning) and the band immediately begins to draw attention, touring the U.S. and eventually becoming a huge sensation in Japan.

The newfound fame begins to take its toll on Currie, who starts to drift down a destructive path.

Based on Currie’s autobiography, writer/director Floria Sigismondi has essentially crafted a meat-and-potatoes biography that doesn’t provide much insight into the band, but instead just delivers the story in a straightforward manner.

While the story may not have much flash, Sigismondi’s strength comes in her ability to capture the carefree era.

Stewart and Fanning are both decent in their respective roles. Stewart shows she can play brooding and angry in more than one note. Fanning is solid, proving she may well be able to make the transition from child star to adult actor.

But the standout performance is from Shannon, who seems to always find nutty off-center roles (think “Revolutionary Road”) and make the most out of his screen time. When Shannon is on the screen, “The Runaways” really soars. But even when he isn’t, it’s still good enough to make you at least think about adding a Runaways song or two to your iPod.

“The Runaways” is rated R for language, drug use and sexual content - all involving teens - and is now available on DVD.

— To get sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton’s up-to-the minute thoughts on all things movies, visit his blog at mcompton.wordpress.com or his Twitter page at twitter.com/mcompton428. You can also e-mail him at mcompton@bgdailynews.com.

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