New in Film for August 21, 2009

Post Grad

Post Grad tries to do three things at once — and half-hits the mark on only one. Part of it is wacky Little Miss Sunshine family time, with Carol Burnett in the Alan Arkin part and Michael Keaton as the clueless paterfamilias. Part is sketch comedy, which is not half-bad, especially given Keaton's frequently underused talents, plus Jane Lynch as his wife and a supporting cast stacked so deep that J.K. Simmons can be thrown away on two scenes. But most of Post Grad is a soggy, Devil Wears Prada-aspiring romance, with Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) as a just-graduated girl whose deep lust for literature (she has read Catcher in the Rye!) is exceeded only by her flawless navigation in heels. When a job in publishing isn't forthcoming until the second act, Ryden leaves the big city and heads back to the homestead to choose between the older Brazilian hottie next door (Rodrigo Santoro) and her devoted, absolutely spineless BFF, Adam (Zach Gilford), who has waited around for years, passive-aggressively declaiming his unrequited love while hoping for better things. Then comes that second act, which features Ryden actually getting a magazine job in this economic climate, only to quit it for true love. Yes, she quit a publishing job. In 2009. Vicky Jenson's live-action debut is as cartoonish as her work on Shrek, and that's OK for the comic bits. The rest seems like a remarkably cynical cross-breed—for all demographics, but, ultimately, for none. Vadim Rizov


Shorts

Austin's rebel without a crew, Robert Rodriguez works in exactly two filmmaking modes: fast, cheap, genre violence (the El Mariachi trilogy, Sin City, Planet Terror); and fast, cheap, CGI-overloaded family adventure (the Spy Kids trilogy, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D). One of the latter, Shorts is a cute and mildly clever fantasy about a nerdy suburban tween named Toe (Jimmy Bennett) who finds a rainbow-colored stone with wish-fulfillment powers; with the comic elasticity of a Tex Avery cartoon, the simplistic plot's limitless possibilities are digitally and unsubtly rendered. (Calling all dung beetles, upright crocodiles, man-sized frankfurters, and booger monsters!) Structured episodically but cheekily out of order, the film introduces Toe's friends, family, schoolyard enemies, and broadly eccentric neighbors — including germaphobic scientist William H. Macy and dictatorial CEO James Spader, for whom every parent works to improve a portable gadget that transforms into near-everything — as each come into perilous contact with the magical rock. Be careful what you wish for, as we learned as adolescents, which is precisely who and only who this rowdy romp is for — though I'd score points for Jon Cryer and Leslie Mann's slapstick as Toe's accidentally conjoined folks. Aaron Hillis


X Games 3D

No one expects a film titled X Games 3D: The Movie to be The Hurt Locker of action-sports documentaries — i.e., a sober dissection of the adrenaline junkies who make their living executing death-defying stunts on skateboards and motorcycles. Still, director Steve Lawrence's glitzy infotainment begs the question, "How much awesomeness can an audience take?" Chronicling the titular games, an annual olympics of extreme sports that have made athletes like Tony Hawk millionaire icons, this stereoscopic 3-D documentary segues between cursory profiles of the sport's major figures and footage from the competitions. Although the novelty of 3-D adds some drama to the contests, your snazzy glasses do nothing to block out the inanity that comes from the mouths of the participants, the play-by-play commentators, and narrator Emile Hirsch, who all endlessly remind us that action sports are about pushing boundaries and/or testing limits and/or living life on the edge. Since none of the on-camera subjects registers as anything more than a mass-marketed symbol of youthful rebellion, it's damned near impossible to care who wins. Not that it really matters — the real victor is the film's distributor, Disney, which conveniently owns ABC and ESPN, the two channels that broadcast the X Games every year. Synergy — now that's awesome! Tim Grierson


Tony Manero

See page 20 for a review.


Unmistaken Child

Israeli documentarian Nati Baratz's Unmistaken Child is a drama of faith, about a Tibetan monk's search for the reincarnation of his beloved master Lama Konchog. This long march, which lasted more than three years, seems confined to Nepal and northern India; the discreet filmmakers never mention whether they've crossed the border into Tibet. The disciple "interviews" an assortment of 18-month-old potential masters, employing a mystical calculus based on signs, dreams, and instances of recognition. (It's clear that intelligence, good nature, and agreeable parents are also prerequisites.) In the movie's key scene, the designated toddler chooses Lama Konchog's sacred bell, beads, and hand drum out of a lineup of similar artifacts—with a swift sureness that put me in mind of kids playing with a Ouija board. The child is surrounded by chuckling monks, and the process happens very quickly. Skeptic that I am, I'd love to have seen the action slowed down and the body language analyzed to reveal how the little Buddha's choices were cued. J. Hoberman

 
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