New in Film for May 28, 2009

 Up

First of all, Up is not a movie about a cranky old coot who, with the help of a roly-poly Boy Scout, finds his inner child during a series of magical adventures experienced from the front porch of a dilapidated manse held aloft by hundreds of helium-filled balloons. Such, of course, is the perception advanced by promotional materials, which sell short the latest Pixar picture and can't prepare you for the emotional punch of its first few minutes, when it presents the most heartfelt — the most sincere — love story in recent memory: the love between a boy and a girl, who become a man and a woman, who become a husband and a wife, who become a widower and a memory that haunts the rest of what follows. Rest assured, it gets funny. And thrilling too as the third act takes place almost entirely in the sky, atop a mammoth zeppelin piloted by a hero turned villain. But despite its title, Up is decidedly earthbound: The elderly Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) spends almost the entire movie schlepping his house across the South American landscape his wife had always hoped to visit. Joined by a young boy (Jordan Nagai) in need of company too, Carl's literally tethered to a memory, an anchor with a garden hose wrapped around his torso to keep his home from floating away. (Note: Do not see Up in 3-D. It's inessential to the story and altogether distracting.) Robert Wilonsky


The Brothers Bloom

Writer/director Rian Johnson's movies — first Brick in 2006, now The Brothers Bloom — are clever and soulful confabulations. The filmmaker, whose screenplays read like novels, serves up movies that could play like parodies: Brick was his gumshoe-in-tennis-shoes noir about a slang-spouting baby Bogart on the hunt for his lady friend's killer. Now comes The Brothers Bloom, a love story — two, actually — that flirts with the con-man movie clichés with which Johnson ultimately can't be bothered. Which is just as well. The genre's big game is played out, after all: In a confidence film, everyone is exactly who they say they are, even when they insist they're not who you think they are, or something — a-ha! Johnson dispenses with that phony device up-front; he doesn't have an endgame gotcha up his sleeve and isn't interested in making a puzzle to be solved. Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are, from first scene to last, precisely who we think they are: lonely little fabulists who tell stories to find the joy that eludes them in "the real world." When they're boys, Stephen spins his profitable fictions to find his brother the perfect girl; as adults, he does it to land Bloom the love of his life, Penelope (Rachel Weisz), the Jersey heiress so wealthy and bored that she collects hobbies. Clearly, Penelope's in need of an adventure, which Johnson provides, in a movie in which affectation gives way to affection till it steals, well, only your heart. Robert Wilonsky


Lifelines

The poster for Lifelines slavishly imitates the Daniel Clowes drawing used for Happiness, accurately telegraphing its tabloid-level density of dysfunction (maybe not the wisest marketing move, given Todd Solondz's bankrupt rep). Though both films feature punching-bag favorite Jane Adams, tyro filmmaker Rob Margolies at least aims for redemption rather than post-P.C. button-pushing in this taxing foray into psychopathological bookkeeping. A Saturday pile-on of therapy sessions for the Bernstein family provides the bleeding heart of the film as well as its numbing formula of root causes for its characters' mental makeup. Dad (Josh Pais) shuffles out of the closet, teen Meghan (Dreama Walker) verbally disembowels Mom (Adams) whenever possible, and stuttering eldest Michael (Robbie Sublett) recounts witnessing his smart-mouthed kid brother, Spencer (Jacob Kogan, AKA Joshua), endure the sine qua non experience of suburban-set indies. Despite the switch-off response that this litany may trigger, Pais and Sublett wrestle down a couple of the impossible-to-deliver monologues, and there's something to the flat, even bored exhaustion behind the traumas. Nicolas Rapold


Tyson

Director James Toback's documentary about former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson isn't a traditional nonfiction portrait so much as a feature-length interview in which the retired boxer remains front and center for virtually the entire running time. The only talking head is his own, albeit one that speaks in multiple, sometimes self-contradictory voices. The movie covers a lot of ground: Even boxing fans who think they know everything there is to know about Tyson may be surprised by the bracing candor with which he dissects his desire to fight, his penchant for overindulgence, his 1992 rape conviction, and the infamous Evander Holyfield bout that ended with part of Holyfield's ear on the canvas. Toback, a fellow traveler on the path of obsession and desire, wears down the calluses Tyson has built up over decades spent as a mass-media punching bag, taking the ex-fighter explicitly on his own terms, even if those terms are constantly in flux. Much too smart to pretend to give us "the Mike Tyson we never knew" or any similarly reductive postulation, Toback doesn't come to lionize or to demonize, to goad his subject into a tearful breakdown (though Tyson does cry) or climactic Frost/Nixon apologia. Instead, he gives us Iron Mike in all his monolithic multitudes and allows us, for a brief moment, to peer alongside him into the existential abyss. Scott Foundas

 
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