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Review: X-Men: The Last Stand


Brett Ratner is great at two things: getting completely implausible stories about himself in the tabloids (see “Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson Fight Over Ratner in an L.A. Club”), and screwing up perfectly serviceable movie franchises (see Red Dragon and Rush Hour 2). It seemed that things might be different with the supposedly final X-Men movie, X-Men: The Last Stand. After all, under the direction of Bryan Singer, the first two X-Men films had delivered a formula that seemed pretty un-fuck-up-able: taut superhero blockbusters that are heavy on special effects, and set in a world populated by an ever-changing roster of fascinating, shape-shifting mutants. How could anything go wrong?
    But with X-Men: The Last Stand, Ratner lives up to his sucky sequel reputation, putting forth a movie that hits all the right notes, but somehow fails to produce a melody. (Sorry. But we’re talking about X-Men here, so an extended metaphor or two in the review is to be expected). The movie centers around a supposed “cure” for mutantism, a pharmaceutical injection that promises to take away the mutants’ special abilities/afflictions and make them “normal.” This cure spurs a sort of civil war among the mutants, with the reasonable, wheelchair-bound psychic Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on one side, and the irrational, “I’ll-suck-the-iron-out-of-your-blood” Magneto (Ian McKellan) on the other. On top of that, there’s a juicy subplot involving Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his love for the newly resurrected, and now dangerously psychic Jean (Famke Jenssen). And, of course, there’s an army of new mutant characters, including Kelsey Grammer as a sort of Smurf on steroids called “The Beast.” Sounds pretty interesting, right?
    The problem is, Ratner only skims the surface of these weighty issues and complex emotions, and the new characters are all so inconsequential, they feel like uninteresting afterthoughts. The whole thing feels like a game of connect-the-plot-points, sketching out a big picture that never really materializes. — Amelie Gillette

Review: An Inconvenient Truth
truthI tried to resist it. I really did. Sure, I like Al Gore as much as the next long-suffering Democrat (maybe even a little more), but I also have a thing against wide-eyed, unquestioning political docs. Not to mention those hot-button films that always rile up indie-film-fest audiences, then reveal themselves to be full of holes. (See also the recent work of one Moore, Michael.) But An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim’s surprisingly restrained film portrait of Al Gore’s now-legendary slide presentation on the catastrophic (and proven) effects of global warming, proved so haunting, so gripping, that I’m now prepared to call it the greatest horror film ever made.
    Like a molasses-voiced St. John the Divine, Gore somberly but gently lays out his vision of the Apocalypse — and the stats he introduces suggest that it’s already begun. The arguing here is cogent, steady and almost never pandering. (In other words, this is not the Gore who ran for president; this is the Gore who calmly eviscerated Ross Perot’s economic arguments on live TV, the one who coolly filleted Dan Quayle, and the hyper-intelligent politician who was a ray of hope in the late ’80s and early ’90s.) The amount of statistical and photographic evidence here is staggering — temperature levels dating back millennia, ocean temperatures over a century, images of the wastes of Patagonia, images of the few sorry patches remaining of “the snows” of Kilimanjaro. Most harrowing of all are the maps illustrating Antarctica’s and Greenland’s steady melt. Luckily, Gore has some solutions for the problem, but like a fine dramatist, he twists the knife for an hour before giving us a final act full of What You Can Do. Sadly, a lot of it is mere inspirational-speak: Never in my life had I been so prepared to take notes during a movie.
    Gore states over and over again that this isn’t really a political issue (which is not to say certain morons in the media won’t make it exactly that; Fox News and Drudge have already begun taking their reptilian swipes), but if An Inconvenient Truth ever falters, it’s because Guggenheim can’t resist giving us melancholy flashbacks to the 2000 election. He seems to be suggesting that if the veep had actually taken office, then things might not be so bad. But Gore’s own words make it clear that it was his post-election period of soul-searching that led him to take this issue on again. Maybe that’s why he seems so cool and collected: He’s already been through one kind of hell, and is ready for the next one. The rest of us might not be so lucky. — Bilge Ebiri
Review: Cavite
cavite“A Truly Indie Film,” as the production credit reads, doesn’t begin to describe the terrorism thriller Cavite, made on $7,000 by two guys with a camcorder. And it ain’t bad, either. Filipino-American Adam returns to the Philippines to find his family kidnapped; a terrorist contacts him by cell phone and forces him through the unfamiliar streets to get them back. Unable to find a female lead, co-directors Ian Gamazon and Neill Dela Llana rewrote the part as male, with Gamazon reluctantly stepping in to fill the role. He works hard, but his acting chops aren’t really up to conveying the desperation Adam should feel, and the tension of the narrative suffers as a result. Luckily, Cavite has more on its mind than suspense: it’s also an unusual exploration of cultural alienation and identity. The unseen caller, monstrous and yet completely human, forces Adam to choke down local food and engage in his poverty-stricken surroundings. The resulting odyssey is vivid and unsettling, and worth the effort of overlooking the film’s rough edges. — Peter Smith
Review: RevoLOUtion
LouAwareness magazine and “Colin Cowie, Oprah Lifestyle Guru” are right — director/actor Bret Carr does convincingly personify Lou Benedetti, the stuttering, street-fighting protagonist of, ahem, RevoLOUtion [sic]. That said, the movie is bizarre and ridiculous, a genuinely surreal attempt at self-help on film. Lou spends most of the movie fighting with angry people. Then he confronts his demons (his abusive father, who terrified little Lou with his digitally lowered, flashbacky voice and digitally elongated, flashbacky face). Then he lets those angry people beat him up in order to raise their consciousness. Then there’s a power ballad. It’s hard to say what’s happening here, since most scenes lack any resemblance to human reality. But the goal seems to have been a sort of self-help Rocky, that film apparently not being inspirational enough for posterity. Burt Young even shows up as himself. To the music from the first Rocky. Nice. I mean, am I going crazy here? Awareness magazine really liked this thing! But when your first title card reads, quote, “Foundation for Conscious Humanity Releasing presents a Conscious Pictures Production of a Bret Carr Peace of Work” [sic], you’re in trouble. Big trouble. — Peter Smith
Date DVD: Transamerica
transamericaWhat to pick for an art-house date? If you haven’t seen Paul Morrissey’s films Trash, Flesh, and Heat, you’ve missed one of experimental film’s hunkiest and most ridiculous icons: the oft-bandanaed, oft-naked Joe Dallesandro. Morrissey used the dumb lug as his muse, filming his lithe body in a decadent, dead-end party world populated by galleristas, hustlers, sluts and scenesters (many played by Factory stars Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn). It’s strange that these films get held up as a celebration of that era’s excess, when they’re really caustic, near-misanthropic send-ups of the whole era. As such, they’re less fun than you might imagine — and that’s why your date will prefer Transamerica. For a road-trip parent-child reunion flick about a transgendered person, Transamerica is much more fun than it ought to be. It’s not just that Felicity Huffman plays the transgendered Bree as something more than a misunderstood minority — she doesn’t play her as some noble (and boring) spirit either. In fact, Huffman’s often hysterically funny, and and as her straight man, Kevin Zegers plays her convict son with leading-man sex appeal and a shameless sense of madcap energy that rarely shows up in Morrissey’s films. — Logan Hill


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