New in Film for Friday, July 3, 2009
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Though hardly landmarks of narrative or animation art, the first two Ice Ages were warm, goofy, and appealing; John Leguizamo's adorably sibilant Sid the Sloth remains a much-quoted guy in our household. But as with Shrek and countless other overextended studio franchises, the well has run bone-dry. Part three sends woolly mammoths Manny (Ray Romano), a very pregnant Ellie (Queen Latifah), and the rest of their cobbled-together family of misfits to a lush land below the ice that's fraught with dangers — like a burping purple plant that ingests foreigners — and teeming with the endlessly marketable dinosaurs so carelessly dispatched in the first movie. However spuriously gussied-up with 3-D, this verdant underworld is a playground for animation geeks, but its narrative pull hovers around zero, unless you count the lame post-millennial jokes about helicopter parents and single dads doubling as single moms, and even those are nothing but an excuse to float a raft of cuddly prehistoric babies for audience tots and their elders to coo over. Even with the addition of an obligatory Cockney weasel (Simon Pegg) to steer the herd through the usual slalom ride of hot lava and hostile beasties, there's no breathing life into a formula that ought to have bowed out gracefully while the going was good. Ella Taylor
Tilda Swinton doesn't merely act the title role in French director Erick Zonca's Julia — she devours it, spits it back up, dances giddily upon it, twirls it in the air. It's a big, all-consuming performance, and in the hands of a lesser actress and filmmaker, it might have consumed the movie too. But Julia is nearly as electric as its heroine, a leggy, vodka-guzzling tart in false eyelashes and cheap sequined gowns who tells men she can make their dreams come true, and who can, provided those dreams involve parking-lot sex and sunlight-blasted mornings after. The key to Swinton's performance (and to the movie) is that she's playing an actress — not a professional one but a wily, desperate woman under the influence who adapts herself to what each new situation calls for, sometimes well, sometimes badly, but always with every fiber of her being. Her faces are many, including the eerie black death mask she wears when she agrees to help her unstable Mexican neighbor (the superb Kate del Castillo) kidnap her young son from the clutches of his wealthy grandfather. It's a crackpot scheme made more so by Julia's half-cocked attempt to secure herself a bigger share of the ransom money, and by the time the movie winds its way from Los Angeles to Tijuana, one kidnapping gives way to another with no end in sight. Scott Foundas
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