New in Film
Abig-screen, family-friendly (well... friendlier) version of the enthralling BBC/Discovery series Planet Earth, Earth follows three animal families — polar bears scavenging for food in the High Arctic, elephants trekking across the Kalahari Desert in search of water, a humpback whale and her young calf on their annual 4,000-mile migration — as they struggle to survive the unrelenting harshness of their disparate climates, a task made all the more difficult by a dangerously warming planet (a point repeated subtly throughout the film). State-of-the-art camera equipment captures images of startling clarity and proximity. There isn't one frame of CGI. (Much of the material appeared in the television series, but 30 percent of the footage is new.) Death always occurs off-camera, but tension levels remain high: A leopard catches a young gazelle, but the camera turns away before the actual kill; the plight of a polar bear is left to the imagination (but proves heartbreaking nonetheless). Lighter moments also abound. Venturing outside their treehouse for the first time, Mandarin ducklings test their tiny wings only to drop straight down to the ground. Their fall cushioned by a bed of leaves, they pop up and waddle off, none the worse for wear.
Like the Fast and the Furious franchise, Fighting purports to offer us an insider's view of an illicit underground subculture that comes alive just as the city's ordinary, decent denizens go to bed. Here, it's the world of bare-knuckles brawling, whose competitors fight not out of emasculated rage against an overly commodified society like the angry young men of Fight Club but simply because they enjoy it or because there's money to be made. The last is the impetus for Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum), a romanticized vision of the cornpone rube trying to make it in the big city, whose pugilistic skills catch the eye of a sweet-talking ticket-scalper-cum-fight-promoter (Terrence Howard). Fighting director Dito Montiel, who won the Sundance directing prize for his erratic but absorbing 2006 debut feature A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, seems incapable of making an ordinary bad movie — he's too much of a willful eccentric, with a casual disregard for things like backstory, character development, and narrative tension and a high indulgence for eccentric performers like Howard (here playing an unholy cross between Ratso Rizzo and Mr. Miyagi) and Tatum (who may be the most sullen and inexpressive leading man this side of Josh Hartnett). So Fighting plays like an exploitation movie that thinks it's an art movie, with lackluster fight scenes, a grafted-on romance, and no art anywhere to be found.
Just Another Love Story
Adultery remains hazardous to your health in "psychological thrillers," even in Scandinavia and even when your affair begins as a magnificent obsession. Schlumpy Jonas (Anders Bertelsen) stops short while driving and sends distraught stranger Julia (Rebecka Hemse) into a blinding, coma-inducing, memory-banishing crash. On an anonymous visit to the hospital, he's mistaken by her rich family for her sight-unseen boyfriend, Sebastian, acquired during backpacker slumming in Cambodia. Jonas clears up the misunderstanding, leaves a tasteful selection of flowers, and returns to his middle-class wife and kids — sorry, I've misread my notes. Make that: Julia awakens, and romance blooms, while flashbacks to bungalow gun-play back East portend the return of the real, bad-news Sebastian (Euro-skeezy Nikolaj Lie Kaas). There's a good, painful moment of oblivious humiliation when Jonas quits his wife in a superstore, but Bertelsen's puffy sheepishness isn't involving enough to distract from the routine plot perforations. The wide-screen images mainly give room for the camera either to loom irritatingly or convey an absolving daze for Jonas, while comfortably intense photography and bookending voice-over purport to comment on the shortfall between life and noir fantasy. Danish director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch) continues a career of laying the groundwork for remakes that will be middling in more familiar, English-language ways.
The kids are most definitely not alright in The Informers, directed by Gregor Jordan from Bret Easton Ellis' 1994 novel and set in haute Los Angeles during the early years of the Reagan era. With its crass, sleek brand of alienation, the movie might have been shot back then as well. The Informers is mainly a spectacle of privileged, pretty young people (and youthful actors) acting badly. Nights of omnisexual anomie, days of robotic synth-music videos, druggy excess, teenage orgies, and (as this is an '80s allegory) a virulent mystery infection: Are these kids truly depraved or just fucked up? Bad parents? Too much television? A toxic environment? Playing a tragically married couple of tinsel-town aristos, Billy Bob Thornton and Kim Basinger bring a weary measure of taut musculature and grownup professionalism to the movie. Basinger's erstwhile '80s co-star Mickey Rourke is on hand as a dissolute prince of darkness; most lizardly in a leather porkpie hat, an orange tan, and some scraggly facial shrubbery, Rourke elevates the movie's sleaze count even as he deflects his scenes toward narcoleptic comedy. Winona Ryder provides another odd flashback, in the role of Thornton's newsgal mistress. In this lurid trash compactor, there's plenty of incident but not much plot.
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