Monday, September 28, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Away We Go (2009) ** Are we screw-ups? Verona wonders aloud. (I’m paraphrasing.) She and her boyfriend, Burt, expecting their first child, live in a ramshackle, poorly heated house and drive a boxy old Volvo. They are maybe a little scruffy, but they seem, objectively, to be doing all right, with jobs that don’t require them to go to work and a relationship that looks tender and durable. Verona’s question may or may not be disingenuous, but the answer provided by Away We Go, the slack little road comedy in which it arises, is unambiguous. Far from being screw-ups, Verona and Burt, played with passive-aggressive winsomeness by Maya Rudolph and Jon Krasinski, are manifestly superior to everyone else in the movie and, by implication, the world. And even though they express themselves with a measure of diffidence, it’s clear that they are acutely, at times painfully, aware of their special status as uniquely sensitive, caring, smart and cool beings on a planet full of cretins and failures. The smug self-regard of this movie, directed by Sam Mendes from a script by Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, takes a while to register, partly because Ms. Rudolph and Mr. Krasinski are appealing and unaffected performers and partly because the writing has some humor and charm. Does it sound as if I hate this movie? Don't be silly. But don't be fooled. This movie does not like you. Grade: C-

The Brothers Bloom (2009) **½ Rian Johnson’s globe-trotting caper comedy The Brothers Bloom is the movie equivalent of an elaborate juggling act whose performers keep dozens of pins wheeling in the air. As much as you admire the stagecraft and the technical skills on display, when all is said and done, that’s all it is: a fancy, not-quite-two-hour stunt. What you take away from this snazzy-looking fantasy about fraternal grifters embarking on a final con are its travel brochure-pretty pictures of colorful locales including Prague, St. Petersburg and Montenegro. Beyond that your response to the movie, which takes too conspicuous a delight in its own cleverness, is likely to be a shrug and a "so what?" Like those airborne pins, The Brothers Bloom never lands. Grade: C

Filth and Wisdom (2008) *½ Pop go the dialectics in Filth and Wisdom, a tale of bumping and grinding your way to happiness from the hardest-working hard body in show business, that precision sex-and-beat machine turned first-time movie director known as Madonna. Set in London, the loosely threaded 84-minute story written by the Big M and Dan Cadan (a former crew member for her ex, Guy Ritchie) involves three roomies who are peddling body and soul in order to follow their different dreams, all of which should sound familiar to the Madonna faithful: music, dance and ... saving impoverished African children. Not that Madonna has gone in for originality, which isn't really her thing: rather, instead of repurposing a genre, she has riffled through the art-house catalog for inspiration, as evidenced by the film's intentionally grubby visual texture, jumpy editing, direct-address commentary, freeze frames and other tricks. Grade: D+

The Girlfriend Experience (2009) ***½ Steven Soderbergh shot The Girlfriend Experience over a few weeks last fall, with a relatively low budget, a portable high-definition video camera and a mostly nonprofessional cast. The film’s means are modest, not unlike the guerrilla techniques Mr. Soderbergh used in Che, but nonetheless The Girlfriend Experience has a sleek, tailored look appropriate to its setting, which is the moneyed precincts of Manhattan at the height — and most likely the end — of the recent gilded age. Every frame swims with signs of dearly bought, casually enjoyed luxury as the camera makes its way from high-end boutiques to jewelbox hotels, exclusive restaurants and the cabin of a private plane. Chelsea (Sasha Grey), the main character — more case study than heroine — is not only a consumer of top-of-the line merchandise, keeping a careful ledger of the clothes and accessories she has purchased and worn. She is also a commodity in this rarified market, a prostitute whose specialty is alluded to in the title of the movie. She offers her rich clients more than sex with an obliging, pretty young woman. The Girlfriend Experience is about, and also traffics in, the intoxification of surfaces, and to say it objectifies Ms. Grey, who is very young (just 21) and very pretty, would be more plot summary than critique When the turmoil of the last 12 months has receded and the 10th-anniversary deluxe collectors edition comes around, this strange, numb cinematic experience may seem fresh, shocking and poignant rather than merely and depressingly true. Grade: B

Management (2009) *** If hell is a place of soul-crushing boredom, the Kingman Motor Inn, the Arizona hostelry in which Stephen Belber’s off-kilter romantic comedy Management sputters to a start, is a gateway to damnation. This anonymous, sunbaked depot is where 38-year-old Mike Cranshaw (Steve Zahn) works as the night manager, repairing backed-up toilets and discharging other odd jobs under the watchful eyes of his parents, Jerry (Fred Ward) and Trish (Margo Martindale), who own the place. Mike’s dead-end existence is unsettled by a sudden glimpse of heaven when an attractive guest, Sue Claussen (Jennifer Aniston), who sells the kind of sterile corporate art found on motel walls, checks in for a short stay. With stalkerlike persistence, the pesky Mike courts her with a bottle of wine, "compliments of management," which he insists they drink together, followed later by cheap champagne. Management aspires to be a hybrid of that great-granddaddy of modern romantic comedies about uncomfortable male initiation, The Graduate, and smart American road-trip comedies like Flirting With Disaster and Little Miss Sunshine. If it isn’t half as good — or as funny — as its forerunners, it maintains its integrity as a small, sweet-natured comedy that refuses to obey the commercial dictates of Hollywood by allowing its characters to determine their own zany destinies. Mike may be a bumbling sad sack, but Mr. Zahn gives him just enough spunky appeal to lend this unlikely fly-by-afternoon coupling and its consequences a shred of credibility. Grade: C+

Monsters vs. Aliens (2009) **½ Monsters vs. Aliens cheerfully converts the two major sources of cinematic terror — invaders from outer space and inhuman, ungodly terrestrial creatures — into wacky, goofy, familiar figures. The movie, directed by Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon from a many-authored script, comes out of DreamWorks Animation and offers the latest twist on the easygoing, parodic formula refined in the studio’s Shrek franchise and last year’s Kung Fu Panda. Just as Shrek and its successors pushed aside the sweet enchantment of traditional fairy tale movies in favor of belching and winking (with a saving spoonful of sugar at the end), so does Monsters vs. Aliens turn fright and apocalypse into strenuous, noisy, 3-D fun. The movie is curiously unmemorable, partly because nearly all of its humor depends on your having seen something like it before, even if you haven't. Grade: C

Shrink (2009) **½ Like smog settling over Los Angeles, a creeping sense of anomie haunts the Hollywood power players and parasites sidling nervously through Shrink, a portrait of a disenchanted therapist to the stars and his clientele. Directed by Jonas Pate from a screenplay by Thomas Moffett, based on a story by Henry Rearden, this dissection of a soul-sick community of self-medicating actors, writers and agents would like to think of itself as a contemporary Play It as It Lays, only kinder and gentler. Shrink doesn’t peer into the abyss as fixedly as Play It as It Lays, the 1970 Joan Didion novel or its screen adaptation by the director Frank Perry (for which Ms. Didion wrote the screenplay with John Gregory Dunne). Nor does it have the ruthless satiric thrust of Robert Altman’s Player, or the pungent gallows humor of a Bruce Wagner novel. But its central character, Dr. Henry Carter (Kevin Spacey), is afflicted with the same metaphysical malaise that engulfed Ms. Didion’s characters. The other characters are mostly too sketchy and their connections too contrived for Shrink to jell as an incisive ensemble piece. Grade: C

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