Home Movies:Arthur Christmas, The Amazing Spider-Man, Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony and Your Sister’s Sister

November 8, 2012

Some recent DVD releases:

Arthur Christmas (PG, 97 minutes) — An animated movie about how Santa’s son must save Christmas. When he reviewed it for our newspaper in November 2011, Sean Clancy observed that “it deftly avoids many of the traps that could have made it a groaner of a Christmas film. There is no real villain … yet while this is a movie that will certainly appeal to parents and kids alike, young children may be a bit confused at the portrayal of Santa; this isn’t the typical, jolly Saint Nick. Both Santa and Grandsanta have flaws, which actually makes them even more endearing, and also leads to an interesting subplot concerning fathers and sons.” Grade: 89

The Amazing Spider-Man (PG-13, 138 minutes) — Columbia’s reboot of the Spider-Man franchise is in many ways an improvement over the Sam Raimi-directed films, particularly the misbegotten third installment, especially in its emphasis on the adolescent nature of its protagonist. Though Andrew Garfield is 28, he makes a credible 17-year-old and his twitchy performance recalls nothing so much as James Dean as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause. Adenoidal and skinny-jeaned, with his skateboard and hoodie, Parker is the sort of beautiful, sensitive outcast that Hollywood habitually inserts into its high schools — and, at least in this case, it works by reminding us less of the actual experience of adolescence than our cinematic experience of it. As a friend of mine put it, the comic book Peter Parker has “high school problems.” While Raimi seemed to want to push past all the greasy kid stuff, director Marc Webb and Garfield wallow in it — and, as is almost always the case, the movie is more fun when it follows the alter-ego rather than the superhero. Grade: 87

Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony (Not rated, 78 minutes) — A heartbreaking and well-realized documentary by Spanish director Alvaro Longoria that focuses on the plight of the Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara, thousands of whom have been living in refugee camps in Algeria since the Moroccan occupation of their homeland in 1975. Despite a ruling in favor of independence by the International Court of Justice, Morocco annexed the territory after the Spanish abandoned their colony, leaving the Sahrawis to either flee or submit to a repressive Moroccan government. The title phrase “sons of the clouds” derives from the Sahrawis’ nomadic traditions — now, their existence is circumscribed and tenuous. The film is narrated by Javier Bardem, who also produced. Grade: 88

Your Sister’s Sister (R, 90 minutes) — Your Sister’s Sister is one of those films that you might very well want to see if you’re interested in the theory and practice of filmmaking, if you’re a particular fan of any of the three principal actors (Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt) or if you simply want to keep current with what’s happening in the world of American independent cinema. It is interesting — I don’t mean that euphemistically or dismissively. It’s experimental and it works more often than it doesn’t, although the pressure for it to be about something sabotages it in the end.

Essentially all of the dialogue in the film is improvised, and this lends the movie’s first half a pleasant, rough verisimilitude — a feel that approximates the realism of the best Dogme 95 films. It’s only when the structures of three-act storytelling are imposed that the film starts to feel artificial and contrived. While the actors do a great job with what they have the problem is they aren’t given much beyond a handful of signifying qualities.
I’m glad writer-director Lynn Shelton made it, and I’m glad I saw it. But I suspect everyone involved will eventually do much better work. Grade: 85

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