Film » Film Clips

Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Sept. 2

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Current Releases

ADAM Arriving on the scene just in time to feast on (500) Days of Summer's sloppy seconds, Adam is another indie effort about a love affair that may or may not survive until the final reel. Here, it's Hugh Dancy as the dashing lad, unsure in the ways of love, and Rose Byrne as the pretty girl, more realistic about the world in which they live. The plot device is that Dancy's Adam suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a condition (comparable to autism, some claim) that impedes a person's ability to function in social situations. Thus, Adam learns from Byrne's Beth how to be more comfortable in his own skin, while Beth learns ... well, actually not much, unless you count Adam's lengthy discourses on astronomy. Dancy and Byrne are both appealing, but the rest of writer-director Max Mayer's film plays like a standard seriocomedy that never explores its unusual angle as fully as we might expect – or hope. **

BRUNO To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen's smackdown of Dan Quayle during the 1988 Vice Presidential Debate: "Bruno, I screened Borat; I knew Borat; Borat was a review of mine. Bruno, you're no Borat." Perhaps not, but there's still plenty of laughs to be found in Bruno, which finds creator Sacha Baron Cohen employing the same guerilla tactics and faux-documentary style that made Borat such an unlikely box office winner back in 2006. This time, the uncompromising comedian adopts the personage of Bruno, a gay Austrian model determined to become an A-list Hollywood celebrity. That's easier said than done, as Bruno's flamboyance repels practically everyone he meets. It's rather disingenuous the manner in which Cohen has suggested that Bruno is an attack on homophobia, since the end result strongly suggests that the filmmaker is having his cake (or cock, as Bruno would doubtless mispronounce the word) and eating it, too. The first half of the picture provides some hysterical material, but what's the target being punctured? Cohen is at his best when nailing specific people, but he's less successful when trying to shock viewers with naughty gay routines that encourage the audience to laugh at him rather than with him. Fortunately, the picture hits its stride in the second half, when Cohen exclusively sets his sights on various bigots, including monosyllabic Alabama hunters, extreme-sports-loving rednecks, and, most reprehensible of all, two vile Christian counselors who bill themselves as "gay converters." These scenes provide the film with the clarity of mission lacking in the earlier segments, as Cohen expertly alternates between subtly mocking his subjects and outright infuriating them. **1/2

THE COVE The newest entry in a growing subdivision of the nonfiction genre – the preaching-to-the-choir documentary – The Cove tracks the efforts of former dolphin trainer Richard O'Barry (who worked on the Flipper TV series in the 1960s) and the Ocean Preservation Society as they seek to halt the continued slaughter of dolphins in Japanese waters. The movie frequently veers off in several different directions (the exploitation of dolphins in U.S. theme parks like SeaWorld and the mercury levels found in dolphin meat are also addressed), and it too often lacks focus and sometimes even facts. But the scenes centering on the slaughter and the aftermath are horrifying; Michael Vick would doubtless get a hard-on watching them, but most normal people will be properly repulsed. ***

DISTRICT 9 District 9 is Independence Day for the art-house set. Although its press launch has been so deafening that it's managed to permeate the mainstream consciousness, its modest approach and meaty metaphors will curry greater favor with filmgoers who opt for Tsotsi over Transformers. And although it's already being hailed in many quarters as a model of originality, the truth of the matter is that the film follows genre conventions just as often as it heads off in its own direction. Like Independence Day, it treats the cinema of science fiction as its own buffet table, picking and choosing which ideas would best serve its own intentions. And in doing so, it comes up with a dish that's juicy in both execution and endgame. Back in 1981, an enormous alien craft appeared in the sky above Johannesburg, South Africa; the voyagers, malnourished and stranded on a spaceship too damaged to go anywhere else, were rounded up and placed in a slum area known as District 9. Now it's been nearly three decades since their arrival, and the million-plus aliens, known dismissively as "prawns" because of their physical appearance, continue to wallow in filth and poverty, conditions that convince the South African government to move them further away from the city limits so as to minimize their contact with humans even more. The specter of apartheid is never far removed from the actions occurring throughout District 9, but writer-director Neill Blomkamp and co-scripter Terri Tatchell never turn this into a heavy-handed screed. Instead, they approach the issues of racism and xenophobia mindful of their knotty ramifications. Imagination runs a bit short toward the end, as District 9 largely turns into a standard chase thriller and viewers are asked to swallow a bit more than even their disbelief-suspending minds might accept. But in a nice twist from the standard Hollywood blockbuster, this Australian import employs its special effects to save the day rather than ruin it, using superb CGI wizardry to draw us into the final battles instead of relying on obvious fakery to distance us from the proceedings. ***

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