Movie Reviews: Dance Flick, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Easy Virtue | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Movie Reviews: Dance Flick, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Easy Virtue 

Also, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers Story, Fados and more

Wednesday, May 20 2009
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GO  THE BOYS: THE SHERMAN BROTHERS STORY Disney musicals from the ’50s and ’60s have a push-pull effect on many folks who grew up loving the stuff, then felt a need to distance themselves from it as young adults, only to rediscover the poignancy, sophistication and melancholy of the music once again as adults. That layered, lingering power is due to the genius of brothers Robert and Richard Sherman. The only songwriters ever hired as Disney staff, the duo provided scores for such classics as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Parent Trap, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. But anyone expecting a saccharine-mapped trip down memory lane from this engrossing documentary, directed by cousins Gregory and Jeff Sherman — sons of Robert and Richard — is in for a bittersweet, heartbreaking surprise. Crammed with clips from classic films, insightful observations from assorted talking heads, and lots of family photos and home-movie snippets, Boys is first-rate cinema archaeology. What pushes it beyond that is the brutal honesty with which the sibling rivalry between the elder Shermans is depicted; theirs is a palpable mixture of love and disdain that led to the men not socializing with each other for more than 40 years, even as they worked together. You leave the film knowing that something of their music’s powerful undertow lies in the dark currents of their own relationship. (Regent) (Ernest Hardy)

DANCE FLICK The Wayans clan peaked with their 1988 blaxploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. Their 2000 hit, Scary Movie, a parody of, umm, scary movies, begat a series of even broader, lamer send-ups that the Wayans had nothing to do with (Epic Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, et al.). Their new spoof of, umm, dance flicks almost seems laudable in comparison. Directed by next-gen newcomer Damien Dante Wayans and co-written with uncles Keenen Ivory, Shawn, Marlon, and cousin Craig, the movie merges the plot of Save the Last Dance — former ballerina and Juilliard hopeful, distraught by her mother’s tragic car accident, discovers street dancing and interracial romance at an inner-city school — with boob, fart and ghetto jokes. Shoshana Bush heads up a cast that includes Wayanses young and old (Damon Jr. as her love interest, his father as a loan shark in a fatsuit), but, comically and literally, Bush is a pale imitation of Anna Faris. The gags themselves only marginally work when they stick to silly non sequitur; the random movie references are forced and flat, and the takeoffs of Dreamgirls and Fame songs would make Weird Al groan. Better than nothing, Amy Sedaris steals it as Ms. Cameltoe, a wicked teacher who beatboxes with her bulbous vagina. Yes, it’s rated PG-13, except it’s also inappropriate for anyone over 13. (Citywide) (Aaron Hillis)

GO  EASY VIRTUE Quick! Noël Coward — sage or supercilious bitch? No matter where you stand, Stephan Elliott’s Easy Virtue, a deliciously cheeky screen adaptation of one of the satirist’s lesser-known jabs at the British upper crust, will charm your pants off. The movie opens with a contemporary rendition of Coward’s “Mad About the Boy,” impressively sung by Jessica Biel, her customary luminous self as a Roaring ’20s American race-car driver who marries into British aristocracy and finds herself on the losing end of a war of words with the groom’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas). Though Elliott, director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, gussies up the action with clever and lyrical visuals, words are what count in this scantily plotted piece (hard to believe that Hitchcock made a silent version in 1928), a light variant on Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan with the same libertarian message that the morally compromised inherit the Earth while the self-righteous wither on the vine. A uniformly great cast (Kris Marshall is a scream as the eye-rolling butler) is upstaged by a hilariously WASP-ish Thomas, who strides away with the movie wearing sensible cardies, QE II hair and all the best lines as Mummy Dearest, with Colin Firth modestly bringing up the rear as her war-ruined lush of a husband. Easy Virtue may seem like little more than a big, fat mother-in-law joke, but Elliott pointedly recasts it as a nail in the coffin of an increasingly irrelevant gentry. (ArcLight Hollywood; Landmark; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7) (Ella Taylor)

click to enlarge Easy Virtue
  • Easy Virtue

FADOS The Fado is a dolorous folksong tradition from Portugal, first sung in the early 19th century by barefoot peasants mending nets and contemplating a roiling black Atlantic. It has survived to the present day, providing MP3 succor to middle-class professionals on antidepressants (lyric: “It was God’s will that I live with anxiety”) — and now it’s the subject of a film revue by the venerable Carlos Saura. Contemporary celebs appear (superstar fadista mewlers Mariza and Lura), alongside ghosts (Amália “Queen of Fado” Rodrigues). Saura is formally ambitious — a troupe travels through the film, articulating lyrics in dance — but the movie missteps when departing wholly from the intrinsic nostalgia of its subject, as the 70-something director imposes his idea of contemporary cool: interspersed hip-hop trio NBC, SP & Wilson and Brazilian reggae artist Toni Garrido. The sequestering of performers into warehouse-studio spaces adds a certain chill to the proceedings, but there are happy exceptions. Nonagenarian Argentina Santos fills her single-take frame with stout gravitas. The penultimate scene takes place in the House of Fados, a Freed Unit version of a Lisbon barroom, its walls a graveyard of headshots, where song is passed around like a challenge and teenaged braceface Carminho shuts the place down. (Music Hall; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Nick Pinkerton)

GO  NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN Wide-eyed kids attended by their pouchy-eyed parents will have few complaints about Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian; all you people in between and beyond could do worse as well. Director Shawn Levy and star Ben Stiller return (as do Robin Williams, Steve Coogan and Owen Wilson — alongside newbies Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Christopher Guest and Jay Baruchel) for this bank-breaking sequel to the 2006 original, in which a directionless single dad takes a job as the night guard at New York’s Museum of Natural History, then takes on its various exhibits when an ancient Egyptian tablet brings them to life. Smithsonian begins with those same exhibits being shipped off to the Washington, D.C., museum of the same name, Larry Daley (Stiller) having abandoned them for fortune as a small-time inventor. When the tablet winds up in D.C., it animates the entire museum’s collection, including a rogue posse led by a lisping Egyptian pharaoh (Hank Azaria) and a gratingly plucky Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams). Though it’s a little slow to start and some of the humor clunks, the film features a wholesome charm, some truly dazzling effects (the Lincoln Memorial alone is worth it), and enough mild, parent-nip in-jokes to keep all but the stone-hearted happy. (Citywide) (Michelle Orange)

GO  O’HORTEN The premise of this gentle existential farce from Norwegian director Bent Hamer is little more than an excuse for a series of deadpan vignettes about love, death and the meaning of life. Forced into age-mandated retirement, longtime train engineer Odd Horten (Bård Owe) quite literally goes off the rails and spends most of the movie dazedly wandering the wintry streets of Oslo, searching a mazelike airport for a prospective buyer for his boat, chatting up the recently widowed proprietress of a tobacco shop, and — in the film’s loveliest sequence — riding shotgun with an avuncular old drunkard who prides himself on the ability to drive blindfolded. Above all, Horten — like his Seuss-ian near namesake — seeks a sense of purpose. Hamer, whose Kitchen Stories tipped its hat to Tati and whose Factotum made an admirable stab at Charles Bukowski, here achieves a tone somewhere in the ballpark of Kaurismäki, with Owe’s wonderfully stoic face rarely bending as it observes his fellow man in all his small-scale absurdities. The images, lit by the cameraman John Christian Rosenlund, have the incandescent glow of storybook illustrations. The movie, on its own modest terms, satisfies greatly. (Royal; Town Center 5; Playhouse 7) (Scott Foundas)

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