Movie Reviews: Alvin and the Chipmunks, Look, The Perfect Holiday | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Movie Reviews: Alvin and the Chipmunks, Look, The Perfect Holiday 

Also Lagerfeld Confidential, Man in the Chair and The Protagonist

Wednesday, Dec 12 2007
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ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS The only way a Chipmunks movie could be even remotely interesting would be if it deconstructed the characters à la Scrappy in the live-action Scooby-Doo: Make them evil bastards who secretly plan to drive Dave Seville (here played by Jason Lee) to suicide with their crazy antics and obnoxious helium voices. Needless to say, the Bagdasarian family, who created the furry beasts, aren’t about to undermine their cash cow in any significant way, so what we get instead is Alvin, Simon and Theodore lovingly rendered huggably fuzzy in CG, which apparently sapped all the movie’s budget so that such things as continuity and art direction have gone out the window. And does nobody involved notice the irony of the film’s villain being a sleazy record-company executive (David Cross, giving it his all) who wants to milk the singing-chipmunk gimmick dry? Lee, acting through gritted teeth, barely musters the energy to yell “Alvin!,” but the chipmunks themselves — voiced by Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler and Jesse McCartney — are surprisingly appealing, though their newly R&B-tinged rendition of “Witch Doctor” is god-awful. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

I AM LEGENDSee film feature

THE KITE RUNNERSee film feature

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LAGERFELD CONFIDENTIAL Among the most influential of contemporary couturiers, Karl Lagerfeld is revered in fashion circles for his imagination, innovation and relentless energy. Though he creates his own eponymous clothing lines, Lagerfeld cultivated his iconic reputation working at a variety of established labels — moving from Chloé to Fendi to the legendary house of Chanel, revitalizing each in the process. Lagerfeld Confidential opens with the designer in his sumptuous Parisian apartment. Emerging in his trademark uniform — head-to-toe black, bulky sunglasses, bright-white ponytail — Lagerfeld riffles through overflowing trays of chunky silver rings, places three or four on each finger, scoops a generous handful into a silver travel purse, and sets off to board his private jet. Filmmaker Rodolphe Marconi follows Lagerfeld as he crisscrosses the globe, touching down at various soirees, runways, hot spots and rendezvous. Confidential never bothers to specify the where, when and why of all this dizzy business, presenting the life of Lagerfeld as an impressionistic blur of jet-set scintillations. Marconi’s indifference to detail extends to any consideration of what, exactly, Lagerfeld does for a living, not to mention the history of his rise in the fashion world. We do, however, learn what he purchased on a visit to the Dior Homme boutique (a shiny gold jacket), the age at which he was first sexually active (13), and his views on prostitution (pro) and gay marriage (con: too bourgeois). (Grande 4-Plex) (Nathan Lee)

LOOK The average American is captured about 200 times a day via an estimated 30 million surveillance cameras recording over 4 billion hours of footage a week — or so shocks the opening title cards of Adam Rifkin’s lurid ensemble drama, Look. Inspired by receiving a photo of himself in the mail, attached to a traffic ticket, Rifkin shot his feature entirely from closed-circuit viewpoints — mostly awkward, God’s-eye angles that faithfully mimic today’s security-camera realities, from elevators and parking lots to police-car dashboards and public restrooms. From the opening sequence — with two teen girls stripping down to their G-strings in a department-store dressing room, then shoplifting — the intertwining plot threads get progressively more sensational. And Rifkin’s flickering cameras are suspiciously smart, zooming in on the right details and picking up crystal-clear sound. There’s plenty of gimmick here, but no gravity. At least Brian De Palma’s Redacted and George Romero’s Diary of the Dead wield their peeping-Tom filters for more ambitious purposes, and Michael Haneke’s Caché teases and implicates audiences by drawing focus to the camera’s eye. Look isn’t processing, critiquing, or even warning; in the end, it’s just recording. (Nuart) (Aaron Hillis)

MAN IN THE CHAIR Finally, stripling movie nerds get their own art-house Karate Kid! A student filmmaking contest pits troubled, working-class teen Cameron Kincaid (Michael Angarano) against smug scion-of-Hollywood Brett Raven (Taber Schroeder). Cameron, however, has a secret weapon: He’s wooed crabbed, geriatric gaffer Flash Madden (Christopher Plummer) onto his team. A leftover from the studio golden age, Flash spends his days killing pints of bourbon in suitably picturesque L.A.-area locales, coming and going at will from the motion-picture rest home. He brings an old screenwriting buddy (M. Emmet Walsh) onboard, and, as pre-production progresses, generation chasms are bridged and lessons summarily learned, to the strains of some anodyne no-name indie rock. The script’s transgressions don’t stop at the character names: Writer-director Michael Schroeder references canonical films and books, presumably in the hope that genius rubs off; the teen argot and scenes of delinquency are flat-out BS; Flash drops standard-issue “cantankerous old salt” nuggets (e.g., “You can’t polish a turd”); and American cinema’s 1 millionth Viagra joke is herein proudly recorded. Walsh and Plummer are obviously pros, and they hustle to put across some patently ridiculous business, but, well, it’s true about the polishing thing. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Nick Pinkerton)

THE PERFECT HOLIDAY Nancy (Gabrielle Union) is a normal suburban mom who wears sweatpants as she shuttles her kids to and from ballet class. She’s also trying to move on from an ill-fated marriage to rap star J-Jizzy (Charles Q. Murphy, flashing his teeth and his bling). When her angelic daughter (Khail Bryant) tells a shopping-mall Santa that all she wants for Christmas is for Mommy to be happy, Santa — who turns out to be a regulation hottie underneath all that cotton wool — gets to work. His real name is Benjamin (Morris Chestnut), and he falls hard for Mommy. Unfortunately, Benjamin is also an aspiring R&B singer whose greatest desire is to have a record produced by J-Jizzy. During the ensuing hour of pratfalls and mistaken identities, the actors distinguish themselves mainly by their ability to make the material, directed and co-written by Lance Rivera (The Cookout), seem even more painfully awkward and unfunny than it is, which is very. (Citywide) (Julia Wallace)

 THE PROTAGONIST Paradoxically proving through innovation that there’s nothing new under the sun, director Jessica Yu craftily co-opts and builds upon the intertwining, disparate talking-head structure of Errol Morris’ Fast, Cheap & Out of Control to illustrate how a modern life can follow the same trajectory as a classic hero’s journey. Inspired by an absurdly challenging request to make a doc about the Greek tragedian Euripides, Yu’s alternative approach was to deconstruct the playwright’s ideas through an articulate, motley quartet of extremist personalities: The son of a Nazi father and Jewish mother, Hans-Joachim Klein grows up to be a leftist enforcer; abused child Joe Loya finds catharsis as a compulsive bank robber; devout Christian evangelical Mark Pierpont represses his homosexuality; and, almost as comic relief, Yu’s once-bullied husband Mark Salzman battles his obsession with martial arts. All four undergo corresponding transformations: A catalyst forces them to change in drastic ways. They change so much that eventually they realize that they’ve become the exact opposite of everything they originally believed in. Then, one by one, each finds balance. Organized by thematic signposts — wooden puppets performing Euripidean scenes, and title cards such as “Turning Point” and “Doubt” — Yu’s rousing exercise in parallel storytelling is surprisingly accessible, and all the more insightful for it. (Sunset 5) (Aaron Hillis)

STARTING OUT IN THE EVENINGSee film feature

YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH See film feature

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