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Wednesday, July 8,2009

Reviews in Short

by Cole Smithey

My Sister’s Keeper. Nick Cassavetes’ threehankie weepy lurches during moments of music-video sequences and gratuitous voiceover from members of the Fitzgerald family, as they struggle with their terminally ill daughter Kate (well played by Sofia Vassilieva). Parents Sara (Cameron Diaz in the best performance of her career) and Brian (played by the ever-dependable Jason Patric) made an ethically challenging decision when they chose to conceive a second daughter, Anna (Abigail Breslin), as a genetically engineered resource to physically help keep leukemia-stricken Kate alive. At 11, Anna decides she wants to be legally exonerated from her bodily responsibilities to Kate, and she seeks medical emancipation with the aid of Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin), a successful ambulance-chasing attorney. A court battle, overseen by an especially perceptive Judge De Salvo (Joan Cusack) looms while Kate pursues romance with a cancer-suffering patient named Taylor (Thomas Dekker). The crux of the drama comes down to Sara’s ability as a mother to see beyond her involuntary urge to fight like a martyr for the life of a daughter whose pain and suffering must eventually come to an end. In spite of some of its less-than-elegant editorial decisions, "My Sister’s Keeper" is full of terrific performances. Cusack is phenomenal as a judge recovering from the loss of her own daughter, and Breslin confirms her status as one of the most gifted young actors in the business. (New Line/Warner Bros) PG-13. 106 mins. (B )


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Michael Bay’s soul-sucking extravaganza of metal machine warfare is remarkable for the lethargy with which the clunky story drags from one silly sequence to another. Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam Witwicky, now a college freshman distracted by his oh-so-hot long-distance girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), when it becomes clear that he holds the key to defeating the Decepticons. What little there is of a story teeters between frothy sexed-up humor, ghost-in-the-machine narration from Autobot leader Optimus Prime, and souped-up CGI of giant robots. The filmmakers give an elderly robot a cane to signify his elderly state — hello, he’s a robot— while having a couple of Autobots talk in ghetto speak. The script’s desperate grab for any kind of attention, negative or otherwise, is sure to leave intelligent audience members feeling insulted and cheated. The spectacle on display isn’t even all that impressive. You might make it out of the movie with your soul barely intact, but the actors in the film don’t fare so well. Rated PG-13. 144 mins. (D)


Whatever Works. Evidence of Woody Allen’s return to making films in America — it’s his first since 2004 ("Melinda and Melinda") — comes with the loss of his mind. Adapted from a script Allen wrote 30 years ago, "Whatever Works" is a desperate attempt at comedy that only relaxes its death grip whenever Allen’s alter ego Boris Yellnikoff (grossly played by Larry David) is absent from the screen. The movie starts off with a fourth-wall-breaking rant by Boris, doing a bad Allen impersonation, about what a joke life is and how its everyone’s duty to "filtch" whatever amount of joy they can from this cruel world. Then Boris, a suicidal, retired college professor, has the good fortune to share his downtown Manhattan apartment with Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), a newly arrived runaway (she’s 17) from the South, whose sublime ignorance provides an empty vessel for Boris to fill with his grumpy ideas and poisonous opinions. At first Boris deflects the randy nymph’s advances with a stream of hostility-fuelled barbs, but eventually enters into a doomed marriage with the girl who is roughly a fourth of his age. Boris’ and Melody’s quaint domestic life is upset when her religious-right mother Marietta (well played by Patricia Clarkson) shows up at the door in several month’s advance of her ex-husband (Ed Begley). Old men and young girls sharing romance is a card Allen has overplayed throughout his career, and it’s a trope that has run out of steam. Here’s a movie that feels thrown together, as if Allen is attempting to purge as many films as he can before he leaves the earthbound world. His legacy is going in an emotionally threadbare direction. Rated PG-13. 92 mins. (C-)


The Brothers Bloom. Newbie director Rian Johnson ("Brick”) fumbles his self-penned sophomore effort with an incongruously toned con-story that is a chore to sit through. A thoroughly amateurish opening sequence full of stale voice-over introduces orphan childhood versions of budding conmen brothers Bloom and Stephen, who hatch a scheme with a local laundry man to dirty the dresses of their female "bourgeoisie" classmates. Cut to modern times when the brothers (played by Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) dress like Charlie Chaplin knock-offs and aim to bilk Penelope (Rachel Weisz), a filthy rich East Coast heiress with a knack for playing stringed instruments and juggling chainsaws. Further evidence that Johnson is still enrolled in the Wes Anderson school of filmmaking comes with the introduction of the brother’s non-English-speaking assistant Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi). The laws of diminishing returns take effect, as the globe-trotting quartet hit ports from Montenegro to Russia while scheming and out-scheming each other and the audience. Acting students will get a kick out of seeing Weisz give textbook meaning to "breaking character." Rated PG-13. 109 mins. (C-)


Land of the Lost. Will Ferrell is a buzz kill to this innuendo-laced comedy that’s unrelated to the television series it’s ostensibly based on. Notorious for repeating his same shtick rather than creating characters, Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a quantum paleontologist who bumbles into inventing a time-travel device that takes him and his assistant Holly (a squandered Anna Friel), along with slacker Will Stanton (Danny McBride) to a surreal place where lizard-type aliens clash with monkey people represented by Chaka (Jorma Taccone). Doomed from its faulty inception, "Land of the Lost" lives up to its title as a movie with no comic bearing save for Will Ferrell’s tired humor that works fine on David Letterman, but not so much on larger screens.
This movie doesn’t even rate as a guilty pleasure. It’s a guilty pain. %u2028Rated PG-13. 96 mins. (D)


For more reviews visit www.colesmithey.com

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