Monday, November 2, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Aliens in the Attic (2009) ** In Aliens in the Attic, basically a tweener cable movie on steroids, a group of intergalactic travelers comes to Earth with plans for widespread massacre and planetary domination. Most of the battling with the four-armed, knee-high green critters is done by a crew of young actors led by Carter Jenkins (the son in Surface) and Austin Robert Butler (Ruby and the Rockits). Ashley Tisdale, of High School Musical, is also on hand. The plot, a children’s adventure larded with some light twaddle about feeling different because you’re good at math, has a gimmick: the aliens possess a mind-control device, but it has been miscalibrated and works only on adults. The quick-thinking young heroes realize that rather than run to their parents for help, they need to keep the old folks out of the way while they figure out how to stop the invasion. This gives the filmmakers the excuse they need to spend most of their time focused on the youngsters and their animated foes, which physically resemble the nastier and much wittier monsters of Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984). Grade: C-

The Answer Man (2009) **½ This is a movie about the softening up of a curmudgeon: a familiar premise and not necessarily a terrible one. Jeff Daniels, playing a reclusive author of inspirational literature, is a fine curmudgeon (see The Squid and the Whale, for instance), and Lauren Graham is a perfectly effective curmudgeon softener (see Bad Santa). The cast also includes talented younger performers like Lou Taylor Pucci (Thumbsucker), Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) and Olivia Thirlby (Juno). So far so good. The main problem is that the movie, in spite of some nice shots of Philadelphia, just doesn’t work. There are a few interesting ideas and potentially engaging characters, but everything slides around like a plateful of half-set Jello, convincing you of nothing beyond director John Hindman’s earnest intentions and uncertain skills. Grade: C

Food, Inc. (2009) ***½ Forget buckets of blood. Nothing says horror like one of those tubs of artificially buttered, nonorganic popcorn at the concession stand. That, at least, is one of the unappetizing lessons to draw from one of the scariest movies of the year, Food, Inc., an informative, often infuriating activist documentary about the big business of feeding or, more to the political point, force-feeding, Americans all the junk that multinational corporate money can buy. You’ll shudder, shake and just possibly lose your genetically modified lunch. Grade: B+

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) ½* This film offers gagging laughs, discount special effects, hoo-ha din and interchangeable action figures. The story here, spun off from the Hasbro-toy world and doubtless many notes from studio suits, follows the contemporary militaristic-movie template. Bad guys square off against good, amid heavy-metal machines, regularly timed explosions, conspicuously planted American flags, B-listers like Dennis Quaid and amusingly slumming indie talent like Sienna Miller and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The dialogue is expectedly risible, while the story is at once elemental and incomprehensible. You have to wonder how much longer the studios think they can force-feed such junk to a restless audience that’s only a few clicks away from other distractions. Grade: D-

I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009) *½ "It’s O.K. just to have fun sometimes," says a dad (Alan Ruck) to his anxious, nerdy son. So true. And if fun is what you’re looking for, you might want to avoid this film, a drab and incoherent teen comedy in which this nugget of advice appears. Directed by Chris Columbus with barely enough style and cinematic panache to eke out three minutes on YouTube, I Love You, Beth Cooper starts promisingly enough, with that anxious, nerdy son, Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) delivering the valedictory address at his high school graduation. In a moment of reckless bravery that appears less and less in character as the picture wears on, he blurts out a number of shocking and uncomfortable truths about his classmates, including the five words that give the movie its name. Grade: D+

Lemon Tree (2009) ****½ Salma Zidane (Hiam Abbass), the proud, handsome 45-year-old Palestinian woman at the center of this film, an allegory of Israeli-Palestinian strife, has the misfortune of living in the wrong place at the wrong time. Widowed for 10 years, with a son in the United States, Salma earns a meager living from a lemon grove on the Green Line separating Israel from the occupied territories of the West Bank. The grove has been in her family for 50 years. Her solitary life suddenly turns upside down when the Israeli defense minister, Israel Navon (Doron Tavory), moves into a fancy new house that abuts the grove. Overnight a watchtower is constructed, and security guards and soldiers begin patrolling the property. No sooner have Navon and his beautiful, cultured wife, Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), moved into the new house than Salma receives an official letter informing her that the grove poses a security threat from terrorists hiding among the trees and, as a military necessity, they must be uprooted. The letter, which Salma has translated because she neither speaks nor writes Hebrew, loftily offers to compensate her for her loss while mentioning that because of recent legislation, there is no legal obligation to do so. She weeps at the news. Thus begins an escalating war of words and of wills. Lemon Tree, directed by the Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis, whose 2004 movie, The Syrian Bride, explored Israeli-Arab border tensions, is also a wrenching, richly layered feminist allegory as well as a geopolitical one. Grade: A

Not Forgotten (2009) **½ February 2008: Simon Baker shoots Not Forgotten. March 2008: Simon Baker is cast in a new television series called The Mentalist. September 2009: Not Forgotten, a lurid yet plodding thriller, bobs to the surface in theaters, most likely to the chagrin of the now very hot Simon Baker. Mr. Baker and Paz Vega star as Jack and Amaya, an inordinately attractive couple living in a town near the Mexico border that is part Mayberry, part freak show. The abduction of their daughter (played by Chloe Moretz) sets in motion a plot full of twists that can be seen coming from some distance; the fact that the kidnapped girl is also the narrator doesn’t increase the suspense. Grade: C

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009) **** "I left my Rudy Giuliani suit at home," says the mayor of New York City, brushing off an aide’s plea to use an unfolding crisis as an opportunity to make a show of leadership for the cameras. Played by James Gandolfini with a demeanor more fussy than thuggish, this fictional successor to Mr. Giuliani presides over an identifiably post-Rudy, post-9/11 metropolis, a shiny, busy place ruled by money and ambition and shadowed less by fear of crime than by anxious memories of terrorism and perhaps by an intimation of leaner times ahead. The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Tony Scott’s canny, energetic updating of the 1974 mass transit thriller, takes account of how much the character — to say nothing of the characters — of New York has changed since that almost mythic decade of decline and default. Like the original film, adapted from John Godey’s novel, this version, with a script by Brian Helgeland, deals with the brazen, borderline-insane hijacking of a local train on the Lexington Avenue line, but the subway system itself serves as an index of how the city and action-movie technology have evolved over the years. Grade: A-

Where God Left His Shoes (2008) **½ A fishy odor of unearned sanctimony clings to this movie, Salvatore Stabile’s queasy-making drama about a homeless New York family seeking shelter on a snowy Christmas Eve. The movie, which stars John Leguizamo as Frank Diaz, an illiterate, washed-up boxer who is the breadwinner for a family of four, including two stepchildren, flaunts irreconcilable ambitions. One moment it pretends to be a sober, neo-realist document; the next it’s a shameless tearjerker in the mode of The Champ. Grade: C

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