New on DVD - 12/16/08

BURN AFTER READING (***) - Dec. 21
FTFR DVD Pick of the Week

Unlike most comedies, the Coens layer their film in such a way that it requires multiple viewings to really pick up on all the subtleties at work here. There are so many characters, so many motives and plot threads, that it could have very easily been a tangled mess, but the Coens keep everything on track with a sure and steady hand. By its very nature, it may not be on the same level of greatness as some of their more highly regarded works like "Fargo" or "No Country," nor is it meant to be. This is a completely different style of film with a wholly different set of goals, and the Coens nail it with their usual subversive glee.

DEATH RACE (**) - Dec. 21

I'll admit I expected "Death Race" to be a much worse film than it is. The presence of Statham and Allen seem to elevate the material to a watchable level, and Anderson's directorial technique seems to have matured some since the utter mess that was "Alien vs. Predator." But in the end, "Death Race" is a dumbed-down popcorn action flick that doesn't have much going on upstairs. This is the kind of film destined to be nothing more than what it was meant to be, although it has a chance to comment on our voyeuristic culture, but who needs social commentary when you can just blow something up instead? It is what it is, and it's never anything more. It's hard to find too much fault in that.


I wanted to like the film as much as I like its music, but I just couldn't. The transitions into the songs are awkward, the musical numbers are dull and stiffly staged, and the entire film has a garish, washed-out look to it that just doesn't seem to fit. Lloyd doesn't seem to realize that she is directing a film, not a stage production, and it shows in how flat and lifeless the numbers come across onscreen. Ideas that may look great on the stage end up being static and stilted on the big screen, as does Seyfried's overly blubbly performance, which seems more geared to a theater full of people than the intimacy of the camera.


Whatever happened to suspense in movies of this sort? Everything is plotted out ahead of time, following the easy connect the dots to the inevitable plot points to the foregone conclusion, without ever making it seem as if the characters are in any real danger. You could accuse "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" of the same thing, but at least it always felt like Steven Spielberg knew what he was doing. Not so much here; director Rob Cohen almost seems bored by his own movie. And the original Indiana Jones films are textbooks on how to do this type of thing right, but Cohen seems to ignore it all, taking the paint-by-numbers plot and scribbling it in with a crayon. He treats the audience like idiots, most notably in the written postscript, which has to be one of the most awkwardly insulting pieces of summer pandering I have ever seen.


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