Monday, November 23, 2009

New movies to be released tomorrow on DVD

Angels & Demons (2009) **½ Since Angels & Demons takes place mainly in the Vatican, and is festooned with the rites and ornaments of Roman Catholicism, I might as well begin with a confession. I have not read the novel by Dan Brown on which this film (directed, like its predecessor, The Da Vinci Code, by Ron Howard) is based. I have come to believe that to do so would be a sin against my faith, not in the Church of Rome (I am not Catholic, anyway) but in the English language, a noble and beleaguered institution against which Mr. Brown practices vile and unspeakable blasphemy. And it was partly, perhaps, because I chose to remain innocent of the book that I was able to enjoy Angels & Demons more than The Da Vinci Code, which opened almost exactly three years ago to an international critical hissy fit and global box office rapture. (The novel Angels & Demons was published three years before The Da Vinci Code.) This movie, without being particularly good, is nonetheless far less hysterical than Da Vinci. Its preposterous narrative, efficiently rendered by the blue-chip screenwriting team of Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp, unfolds with the locomotive elegance of a Tintin comic or an episode of Murder, She Wrote. Mr. Howard’s direction combines the visual charm of mass-produced postcards with the mental stimulation of an easy Monday crossword puzzle. It could be worse. Grade: C

Evergreen (2004) ** In this waterlogged indie film, a moody ingenue takes in drive-by glimpses of Everett, Washington, her new hometown. To 14-year old Henri (Addie Land), the soggy terrain of Cobain country is a tough place for a schoolyard loner with a decent jump shot, until a high-school hottie introduces her to sumptuous suburbia. Her new boyfriend's perky mom (Mary Kay Place) hints at the strains of keeping the home fires burning, and the adolescent conclusion becomes clear: adults are, like, total freaks. And all a gloomy girl can do is wear sunglasses at night and ride out the rainstorm. Grade: C-

Four Christmases (2008) ***½ Every holiday season, either out of respect for tradition or sheer spite, at least one Hollywood studio is sure to release a drippily sentimental, gratingly cheerful "comedy," indigestible as a fruitcake and disposable as wrapping paper. All appearances to the contrary, Four Christmases is not this year’s version. Yes, it follows a charming, mismatched couple on a sentimental journey involving presents, family and the sharing of food and feelings, but the picture, briskly directed by Seth Gordon from a snappy, many-authored script, is refreshingly tart and lean, forgoing the usual schmaltz and syrup. Don’t get the wrong idea. Four Christmases isn’t anything astonishing, but at 86 minutes, divided into four farcical set pieces, plus necessary exposition, denouement and interstitial drive time, it’s an efficient and stress-free entertainment package. For the audience, that is. The main characters seem pretty miserable most of the time, which is as it should be. Grade: B

Funny People (2009) ** Comedy is always serious business, whether the joke is on the funnyman with the pie in the kisser or the woman trying, really trying, to fall for the schnook who didn’t use the condom. Funny People, the latest from Judd Apatow, the director of the hit comedies Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin and a prolific producer, is being pitched as a bid at gravity, earnestness, adulthood, whatever. It’s an angle that sounds as if it had been cooked up by a studio flack to explain how words like divorce and death got tangled in with all the penis (and thereabouts) jokes. But the only difference is that now Mr. Apatow also seems lethally serious about being Judd Apatow. Funny People, which he wrote and directed, stars Adam Sandler as George Simmons, a onetime stand-up nobody who has become fantastically successful by starring in the kind of crummy high-concept Hollywood comedies — in one, he plays an adult with the body of a baby — that have been the creative ruin of Eddie Murphy. The deep rituals of comedy aren’t really the point here, as becomes clear as Mr. Apatow forges into increasingly sticky territory, lavishing time on George’s contrition tour as he unconvincingly mends fences with his estranged family and socializes with equal opportunity comedy offenders like Sarah Silverman and Norm Macdonald. (Eminem, as himself, trumps those jokers by threatening to beat up the real Ray Romano.) Then George reaches out to an old lover, the laughs give way to tears and this promising comedy bloats, sags and dies. That’s too bad because while Mr. Sandler doesn’t have the necessary acting technique or even the natural warmth to convince you that his character cares about anyone else, he is undeniably a star, the movie’s biggest draw and its most effective and powerful presence. It’s easy to buy him as both a selfish jerk and a maudlin self-pitier, whether George is weeping alone into his designer sheets or confiding some medical news to his housekeeper, the only sympathetic ear around. With his flatline drone, stand-and-deliver gestural performance and prickliness, Mr. Sandler is effortlessly charmless, and in his performance you see the risky movie this might have been if Mr. Apatow had pushed harder. Grade: C-

Gomorrah (2009) ****½ There are no colorful characters in Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone’s corrosive and ferociously unsentimental fictional look at Italian organized crime; no white-haired mamas lovingly stirring the spaghetti sauce; no opera arias swelling on the soundtrack; no homilies about family, honor or tradition; no dark jokes; no catchy pop songs; no film allusions; no winking fun; no thrilling violence. Instead, there is waste, grotesque human waste, some of which ends up illegally buried in the same ground where trees now bear bad fruit, some of which, like the teenager scooped up by a bulldozer on a desolate beach, is cast away like trash. Grade: A

Shorts (2009) **½ "I wish I had friends," laments 11-year-old Toe Thompson (Jimmy Bennett), a picked-on kid with a mouth full of metal and a ZIP code full of weirdos. Toe’s lack of companionship, however, has less to do with his orthodontist than with the peculiarities of his suburban neighborhood: the ominously named Black Falls, home to Black Box Industries and locus of excessive looniness. Structured as five short stories connected by Toe’s irksome narration, Shorts surges forward and rewinds, pauses and skips around as if controlled by a remote-wielding toddler. This narrative device, assisted by appropriate on-screen graphics, soon becomes tiresome, but it’s emblematic of a film that is dancing as fast as it can to entertain. Grade: C

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