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Movie Reviews: Amelia, Astro Boy, Saw VI 

Also Cirque du Freak, Stan Helsing and more

Wednesday, Oct 21 2009
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AMELIA Hilary Swank, slender, toothsome and long-jawed, is a gussied-up physical match for Amelia Earhart — and this is the only meaningful way in which Amelia resurrects the aviatrix. Drawn from two Earhart bios, Mira Nair’s dull hagiography comes in about 111 minutes too long. Swank’s Earhart is all grinning can-do, at fault for nothing, her only conflicts coming through the misunderstanding of a chauvinist, materialist society unprepared for her barnstorming beauty. Beyond her record flights, the film covers Earhart’s courtship with and marriage to publicist G.P. Putnam (Richard Gere), an architect of the Lindbergh legend, and her free-love affair with Gore’s dad, Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor). Amelia is pinned uncomfortably between “chase your dreams” PG-safe and aspirations of sophistication. For a woman to write, as we see Earhart doing, a prenuptial condition that “I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you” would be gutsy in 2009, not to mention mere years after suffrage, there’s little sense of the emotional risk Earhart’s taking with that declaration, and the resulting ménage à trois lacks heat. Period details, from 1928 to 1937, are so clichéd that someone might as well announce onscreen, “Gosh, these ’20s certainly are Roaring!” (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)

AS SEEN THROUGH THESE EYES It’s an angle many Hitler historians can’t leave alone: As a young, aspiring painter, the führer was rejected by the Vienna Art Institute; as a murderous dictator, he remained an art lover, looting Europe of its greatest treasures. The facts are there, yet their melodramatic invocation does more harm than good to As Seen Through These Eyes, a documentary about the creative impulse that sustained many young prisoners of World War II concentration camps. Distractingly tortured metaphors are given a distractingly affected narration by Maya Angelou: the embittered Hitler “refocused his passion for painting into a new art form” and soon, “no one was safe from his sweeping paintbrush of death and destruction.” Inside this hackneyed frame are the actual subjects of the documentary, many of whom are Auschwitz survivors, who discuss their experiences and display their powerful wartime drawings and paintings. It must be tough being the world’s 7,000th Holocaust documentary; there aren’t a lot of fresh angles left, and recorded Holocaust images — occasionally used here without identifying context, as if they were interchangeable — have become so codified that one wonders if that interchangeability is the ultimate sacrilege. But the artwork — the product of individual experience and expression rather than an anonymous camera — returns the horror of the camps to its proper, piercing register. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Michelle Orange)

ASTRO BOY Is it impossible to bottle childhood nostalgia in a movie? On the heels of Where the Wild Things Are comes Astro Boy, a CGI-animated origin story for the legendary cartoon hero of the same name, who first appeared in Osamu Tezuka’s 1951 futuro-Pinocchio manga comic. Westernized and sterilized, the still-nippleless, rocket-thrusting robo-kid now wears pants, flies without his classic theme song, and all but ignores his cult following to focus on merchandising to next-gen kiddies. But the fable stays intact: After smarty-pants schoolboy Toby (voiced by Freddie Highmore) — son of the genius Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) — is accidentally killed while presenting an experiment to the villainous General Stone (Donald Sutherland), Daddy builds a tricked-out android version, made from his son’s memories. But Astro is not Toby, and so ends up treated like the robotic servants who wait on humans hand and wheel throughout this shiny metropolis hovering in the sky. Further class struggles erupt on the discarded Earth surface, where junkyard urchins wave their fists up at those metro types, and Astro ends up fighting baddies in both realms while looking for a family to call his own. Corny but goodhearted, the film tries hard not to annoy parents, with animation more fizzy than frantic and nerdy references to Asimov’s law of robotics, Kant and Freaks: “One of us, one of us!” (Citywide) (Aaron Hillis)

THE CANYON Another one for the bad-stuff-happens-to-stupid-people file, The Canyon might at least offer the satisfaction of a few squirmy thrills, if it weren’t so insistent on treating its central couple’s plight as the stuff of high tragedy. When newlyweds Nick (Eion Bailey) and Lori (Yvonne Strahovski) find their dream of riding mules through the Grand Canyon thwarted by local prohibitions, they enlist the weird, grizzled dude they meet at the bar to serve as their guide. But after leading them far off the beaten path, Henry (Will Patton) falls prey to a snakebite and, offering up a lame warning about nature taking its revenge on mankind, dies, leaving the two to fend for themselves. As they become progressively more lost, the blandly handsome young couple find that the blandly handsome Arizona wilderness — filmed by director Richard Harrah with picture–post card banality — isn’t as bland (or as handsome) as it seems. But despite the obvious dangers — and a gruesome amputation — the film goes light on action and suspense alike, so that most of its running time is spent focused on two dullards spouting inane dialogue or doing dumb shit like trying to make cell-phone calls while climbing a massive crag. (Sunset 5) (Andrew Schenker)

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