Home movies: Alvin, Elmo, Franco, Viggo, Hanks, Largo, Jolie, Icelandic Jitters and Jonah in Sitter

March 29, 2012

Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (G, 87 minutes) — Like a lot of pure products of America, Chipwrecked is bright, shiny, shrill, immaculately realized and utterly depressing. In this episode, Alvin and the gang take a Carnival Cruise and get stranded on an island. With the unsinkable David Cross. Grade: 80

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (PG, 80 minutes) — A sweet and uplifting movie about a very nice man, Kevin Clash, who realized his childhood dream of becoming a Muppet manipulator and created Sesame Street’s beloved Elmo. Grade: 88

The Broken Tower (Unrated, 99 minutes): The usually reliable James Franco wrote, directed and stars as the suicidal poet Hart Crane in this interesting but cinematically dubious adaptation of Boston College professor Paul Mariani’s similarly titled biography of the poet. Francophiles will note that this feels like a spiritual sequel to the polarizing Howl, which happened to be about another gay American poet, Allen Ginsberg. If you liked that film, you’ll probably feel the same about this one, though it’s easier to admire Franco’s intellectual curiosity than sit through this one. With the unsinkable Michael Shannon. Grade: 83

A Dangerous Method (R, 99 minutes) — A coolly formal period piece about the invention of psychotherapy and the rivalry between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). And while the film’s subject matter might seem tailor-made for David Cronenberg, the former foremost practitioner of venereal horror seems to have completely wiped his fingerprints from the crime (mise-en-)scene. Camera movements are restrained and deliberate; the actors appear outwardly calm and refined as their minds reel and rebel against convention.
Cronenberg’s comments are largely constrained to the subtle placement of his actors in the frame, to suggest the ever shifting power dynamic among the characters, who form a kind of love triangle. If you didn’t know better, you might mistake A Dangerous Method for a lost Merchant-Ivory production. Almost, but not quite, sunk by an overplayed performance by Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein. Grade: 87

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (PG-13, 130 minutes) — A perfectly reasonable attempt to dramatize (and therefore contain) the shattering reverberations of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Of course, there are some who will find the very idea of such a film morally repugnant and reductive, just as there are people who resist any cinematic portrayal of the Holocaust. (My own idea is that we ought not proscribe artists from making use of whatever materials they will to try to shock and awe us into feeling.)
That said, there’s nothing very special about ELIC, other than the remarkable Max von Sydow and a preternaturally alert performance by young Thomas Horn, the 13-year-old Jeopardy! champion who plays Oskar Schell, the precocious 9-year-old at the center of the movie. Grade: 87

The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch (Not rated, 108 minutes) — Wild, European action film based on a Belgian graphic novel stars Tomer Sisley as the titular heir, the secret adoptive son of a billionaire who — after his father is murdered — has to prove his legitimacy, find the killers and stop them from taking over his financial empire. With a slumming Kristin Scott Thomas. Grade: 85

In the Land of Blood and Honey (R, 147 minutes) — Angelina Jolie’s directorial and screenwriting debut — a story of “love and survival” set against the Bosnian war — is a bright sophomore’s attempt at didactic fiction. It is derivative (most clearly of German writer-director Hans-Christian Schmid’s superlative 2009 film Storm) and, at uncomfortable times, risible. Had it been attempted by anyone other than an A-list celebrity, it would never have been made — or at least not presented on the present scale. Still, she’s not an untalented director; the problems are more with her taste than her execution. Grade: 79

Jitters (Not rated, 95 minutes ) — Better than average Icelandic teen drama — and you will remember that your monkey is the world expert on Icelandic cinema, having seen that movie about the obstinate ram — that some people compare to the British TV show Skins (which I’ve never seen). Handsome cast and a realistic, relatable script that only occasionally slips into melodrama. Grade: 86

The Sitter (R, 81 minutes)‚ — The truth is, I decided not to watch this after hearing it lambasted by friends lamenting the downward spiral of David Gordon Green, a genuinely talented director who seems determined to pursue a carrer built on downmarket stoner comedy. (Real termite art?) But then a review disc showed up (late) and I put the digital copy on my iPad and watched it at the gym. It’s not nearly as bad as I’d heard, and it does nothing to tramnish Jonah Hill’s reputation as a cerebral comedian. Sure, it sucks, but it’s not the disaster people said it was. Grade: 85

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