Monday, October 26, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) **½ I am not someone who insists that cartoons obey the laws of physics or stick to the historical record. The Acme Corporation will not deliver a home catapult kit to an unmarked mesa in the desert Southwest, and, Up notwithstanding, even a modest bungalow is unlikely to make an intercontinental flight propelled solely by helium balloons. Everyone is aware of these fundamental truths, and no one is likely to complain when they are flouted for purposes of entertainment. But the idea that a hot, verdant land, populated by giant lizards and carnivorous plants, might have lain hidden beneath the glacial, prehistoric ice — I’m sorry, but that’s just idiotic. I don’t mean to sound like a 9-year-old or a dogmatic Darwinian, but really. Come on. T. rexes chasing woolly mammoths? Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs? What? Dawn of the dinosaurs? In the Ice Age? You’ve got to be kidding. I know. This kind of anachronism is trendy at the moment, what with Year One and Land of the Lost and Star Trek. But weren’t underground dinosaurs in 3-D already tried last summer in the abysmal Journey to the Center of the Earth? Couldn’t the creative minds at the 20th Century Fox animation studios, hoping to wring a few hundred million dollars more out of their prized family-animation franchise, have come up with something more original? Dumb question. Grade: C

Il Divo (2009) **** "I don’t believe in chance, I believe in the will of God." That credo, spoken in a dry, dispassionate voice, drops more than once from the mouth of Giulio Andreotti (Toni Servillo), the scandal-ridden seven-time Italian prime minister, in Paolo Sorrentino’s flamboyant biographical fantasy, Il Divo. A label once applied to Julius Caesar, Il Divo is only one of several popular nicknames for Mr. Andreotti, who entered the Italian political arena in the late 1940s and is now 90. As the right-leaning leader of the country’s centrist Christian Democratic party, Mr. Andreotti, elected to his first term as prime minister in 1972, has been called the Sphinx, the Hunchback, the Black Pope and Beelzebub. He was appointed a senator for life in 1991. In exploring Mr. Andreotti’s possible connections to a stream of political assassinations and to other killings made to look like suicides, which began in the late 1970s and continued into the early ’90s, Il Divo has the tone and style of a blood-soaked comic opera. Grade: A-

Medicine for Melancholy (2009) ****½ "Everything about being indie is tied to not being black," says Micah (Wyatt Cenac), half of the accidental kind-of couple whose one-day romance is chronicled in Medicine for Melancholy. He is making an observation — and also registering a complaint — about the quasi-bohemian way of life he shares with Jo’ (Tracey Heggins), his temporary other half. It bothers Micah that their embrace of the folkways of urban hipsterism seems to require the suppression of their African-American identity. But his words, which Jo’ doesn’t quite agree with, also suggest a degree of self-awareness, and self-questioning, on the part of Barry Jenkins, who wrote and directed this small, incisive film. Most recent movies about culturally savvy, affectless 20-somethings hooking up and being cool are very much tied to not being black. They are about diffident, underemployed white boys and the women who (sometimes inexplicably) go to bed with them. It wouldn’t be entirely fair to say that Mr. Jenkins, a 29-year-old director whose immersion in movie history is both ardent and understated, is making a black version of a Joe Swanberg or Andrew Bujalski film, or even, to stretch the comparisons a bit further back, a mash-up of Before Sunrise and She’s Gotta Have It. But it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate, either, because the tricky questions that govern Medicine for Melancholy are how, why and to what extent race should matter in relationships between black men and women. Grade: A

Nothing Like the Holidays (2008) **½ The gnarly dead tree in front of the Rodriguez house in Humboldt Park, a working-class Latino neighborhood of Chicago, will not be processed into kindling. As the Rodriguez menfolk, gathered for Christmas, attack it with chain saws, their incompetence with power tools makes them look like fools. Even when they try to drag it out of the earth with ropes and chains attached to a car, it refuses to budge. That old dead tree is an unwieldy metaphor for family solidarity in Nothing Like the Holidays, an efficient home-for-Christmas ensemble comedy trimmed with plastic teardrops. But the tree might also stand for a wooden holiday genre in which uplift follows tumult as surely as Christmas morning follows Christmas Eve. Grade: C

Orphan (2009) **Actors have to eat like the rest of us, if evidently not as much, but you still have to wonder how the independent film mainstays Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard ended up wading through Orphan and, for the most part, not laughing. He plays the father, John, an architect, and she plays the mother, Kate, who doesn’t do much of anything. Together they watch over Daniel (Jimmy Bennett) and a younger girl, Max (Aryana Engineer), in one of those sprawling houses that always looks spotless even if no one ever drags a mop across its polished floors, which makes you wonder who will swab up the inevitable pooling blood. And the blood it does spill, though not nearly fast enough. Grade: C-

Whatever Works (2009) ** Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A guy walks into a meaningless universe. He sees this gorgeous blonde sitting at the bar. It’s obvious she’s never read a word of Dostoevsky, much less Kierkegaard. So he says to her, "Is it meaningless in here, or is it just me?," and she says, "My place or yours?" I know, I know. It’s an old joke, and I didn’t tell it quite right. But that’s just my point. With material like this — a Jewish intellectual type shrugging his shoulders, looking into the camera, spitting out fancy Latinate words as if he’d just swallowed a thesaurus, while an eager young actress of the moment flits around looks sultry and clueless — execution is everything. So my problem with Whatever Works, the latest movie from, duh, Woody Allen, is not that the premise, more or less summed up in the paragraph above, is a wee bit familiar. Rather, it’s that the delivery is off. Grade: C-

1 comment:

Charles said...

Very nice blog and reviews. All the best.