Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Film Round-Up, November 2010

In this edition of The Film-Round Up, we go completely and utterly fact-based. There's some good stuff here. In order to give this post some fictional flair, here's a photo of Janet Cooke, the shamed "Washington Post" journalist who won a Pultizer Prize for her fradulent "Jimmy's World" series.

Back to the facts, my interview with Bjorn Lomborg ("Cool It") should be posted next month. In the meantime, check out "Cool It," which opens nationwide next Friday.

(These reviews previously appeared in "ICON" and are reprinted with permission. Thanks, Trina.)

Cool It (Dir: Ondi Timoner). Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, has garnered equal shares of acclaim and criticism for his take on global warming. It is real, he says, but the effects aren't nearly as catastrophic as we think. In fact, simple and high-tech solutions abound for the gloom and doom future that apparently awaits us. Lomborg travels the world to examine these options (wave power, for example), reveals environmental myths (the polar bear's reduced numbers can be attributed to hunters), and gains clearheaded insight from various experts. Though his detractors may label the film propaganda, the affable and eloquent Lomborg makes a convincing argument: Environmental panic has prevented us from thinking logically and solving the problem at hand. The movie's most telling scene: How the fate of the environment ranks in importance to schoolchildren in Nairobi, Kenya compared to schoolchildren at an English private school. A fascinating, eye-opening, and entertaining film that should stir debate. [PG] ****

Freakonomics. Six directors (including Morgan Spurlock and Alex Gibney) tackle the best-selling book of the same name, which examines the hidden costs and benefits of regular life, such as whether baby names determine future success and the ripple effect of cheating in the world of Japanese sumo wrestling. Each director's approach is different and all provide eye-raising revelations: Giving a kid a unique name does not guarantee success; the crime rate drop of 1990s could be due to Roe v. Wade. But that variety is also the movie's biggest flaw. Style trumps substance, burying the message of authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Sometimes the result is unintentionally harmful. Two segments, Gibney's self-serious sumo wrestling piece and Eugene Jarecki's gloomy crime rate examination, actually clash with Dubner and Levitt's cheeky onscreen observations. Freakonomics offers visual stimulation over intellectual curiosity, as if the theories need to be made palatable at any cost. The movie seems determined to make itself irrelevant. [PG-13] **

My Dog Tulip (Dir: Paul and Sandra Fierlinger). Featuring the voices of: Christopher Plummer, Isabella Rossellini, Lynn Redgrave. Based on the cherished memoir by J.R. Ackerley (1896-1967), this lovingly hand-drawn, animated feature chronicles Ackerley's life with his rambunctious Alsatian bitch, Tulip. Ackerley details the mundane (and dirty) aspects of dog ownership and the rich companionship that results. The movie's strength is its simplicity—from the animation to the story to the gorgeously lean writing style (voiced to perfection by Plummer). Ackerley and Tulip's evolving relationship rightfully takes center stage. The first movie I've seen in a while that doesn't use a dog as a shameless emotional device or to demand adoration, My Dog Tulip shows how a person learns to value and love an animal unconditionally. This is a touching, non-patronizing tribute to man's best friend. The Wynnewood-based Fierlingers also handled animation duties; Paul Fierlinger is credited with the screenplay. Redgrave's last film role. [NR] ***

Last Train Home (Dir: Lixin Fan). In China millions of migrant workers leave their rural homes (where employment options are few) to find jobs in distant cities, sending money back home. The Zhangs are no different. For years, mom and dad have worked non-stop, returning home only on the Chinese New Year to see their two children. Now well into her teens, daughter Qin has dropped out of school to find work and to escape the monotony of farm life. Her parents, who forever promote the values of education, are against the idea. Qin, who resents her parents' long absences, is tired of listening. Something has to give. In her debut, documentarian Fan jumps right into the family's story, observing the subjects at work, home, and during brief reunions. The low-key approach yields a story about how sacrifice can go unnoticed, and how sadness spreads in a family despite the older generation's best defense. Difficult to watch but harder to forget, Last Train Home's honesty and lack of pretense gives it undeniable impact. [NR] ***

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