Monday, October 12, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Adoration (2009) ****½ In Adoration, a profound and provocative exploration of cultural inheritance, communications technology and the roots and morality of terrorism, the Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan nimbly wades into an ideological minefield without detonating an explosion. Its story of a high school class assignment that becomes a minor cause célèbre is a rigorously structured variant of the everything-is-connected-to-everything school of filmmaking that has produced movies like Babel and Crash. But unlike those movies, Adoration, Mr. Egoyan’s finest film since The Sweet Hereafter (1997), doesn’t strain to maintain a pretense of naturalism. In every scene you feel the controlling hand of Mr. Egoyan who wrote, produced and directed it. Grade: A

American Violet (2009) **½ Near the beginning of American Violet, when Dee Roberts (Nicole Beharie), a feisty 24-year-old African-American woman, is arrested, handcuffed and roughly dragged by the police from the diner where she works, your heart sinks. We have already watched a police task force conduct a military-style drug raid on Arlington Springs, the housing project in Melody, Texas, where she lives with her mother, Alma (Alfre Woodard), and four children. You grit your teeth in expectation of more cruelty to come. Thrown into a jail cell with three other women, Dee is stunned to learn she is being charged not for the hundreds of dollars in parking tickets that she owes but with distributing narcotics in a school zone. Although she is not carrying drugs and none are found in her home, the prosecution claims to have a witness. Dee’s court-appointed lawyer urges her to take a plea bargain and agree to a 10-year suspended sentence with a small fine, rather than risk serving a 16- to 25-year prison term. When Dee hotly refuses, even her mother thinks she is a fool. American Violet, which is based on real events that took place in late 2000, has the quasi-documentary feel of a well-made television drama. Directed by Tim Disney from a screenplay written by its producer, Bill Haney, the film is beautifully acted by Ms. Beharie, whose high-strung character is no angel. Grade: C

Drag Me to Hell (2009) **** At a time when horror is defined by limp Japanese retreads or punishing exercises in pure sadism, Drag Me to Hell has a tonic playfulness that’s unabashedly retro, an indulgent return to Mr. Raimi’s goofy, gooey roots. More jolting and juicy than the typical PG-13 offering, the movie has a perfunctory plot that centers on Christine (Alison Lohman), a tenderhearted loan officer at a California bank. Swift and sure, Drag Me to Hell unfurls in vertiginous, comic-book frames, like a long-lost issue of Tales From the Crypt. Neither small humans nor smaller animals are exempt from the carnage, which is orchestrated (by Mr. Raimi and his screenwriting sibling, Ivan) to recall memorable moments in horror-movie history. Grade: A-

Every Little Step (2009) **** Watching Every Little Step, a documentary by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo, is a bit like walking through a hall of mirrors. Life imitates art, art reflects life, and after a while the distinctions threaten, quite pleasantly, to blur altogether. The film follows a group of mostly young dancers and singers auditioning for parts in the recent Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, a musical which is itself built around the auditions of 17 mostly young Broadway-besotted dancers and singers. The premise of Every Little Step is no less inspired for seeming so simple and obvious, and it pays tribute to the durability and continued relevance of A Chorus Line, which opened in New York in 1975, before many of the performers in the movie were born. Grade: A-

Land of the Lost (2009) ** The only marginally interesting, if unsurprising, thing about the pricey movie spinoff of the junky children’s television show Land of the Lost is that a lot of money has been spent on yet another cultural throwaway. (Never say that Hollywood doesn’t know how to recycle.) Although the original Sid and Marty Krofft series, which ran from 1974 to 1976, doubtless still has its fans, because, well, some people are happy to watch whatever pops up on their televisions, I suspect that a fair share also like to light up before tripping down that particular nostalgic byway. Alas, only popcorn and soda were served at the screening I attended. Not that I didn’t sometimes laugh anyway. It’s hard not to laugh when Will Ferrell, who can be very funny when given something actually funny to do, takes off his shirt to brandish his flabby-pack, a ritual unveiling now apparently written into all his contracts. It’s a cheap gag, certainly cheaper than the digital dinosaurs that stomp through a few scenes (and less embarrassing than watching him plug the movie’s marketing partner, Subway). But it’s effective largely because Mr. Ferrell’s version of comedy’s familiar child-man always skews more creepy than sentimental. Grade: C-

The Proposal (2009) **½ Blame the heels. In her new movie, The Proposal, Sandra Bullock, playing a Type A (rhymes with) witch, totters around in a pair of exquisite high heels, the kind that elongate the legs and give a woman’s derrière the gentle backward thrust familiar from fertility figurines. The character, a no-nonsense, no-smiling publishing executive, otherwise favors an aerodynamic look (pencil skirts and ponytails), but the heels betray her. They throw a curve into her straight line and force her to tilt, sway and wobble. She might be the mistress — the harsh and exacting mistress — of her universe, but she’s clearly been prepped for a fall. Like most Hollywood romantic comedies these days, The Proposal is all about bringing a woman to her knees, quite literally in this case. The simple premise is partly telegraphed in the advertising tag line, "Here comes the bribe," which evokes wedding bells and desperation. Grade: C

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