A smarmy score, some orgiastic farting from a herd of walruses, and a modicum of cutesy anthropomorphism from narrator Queen Latifah prove a small price to pay for this stunningly photographed narrative documentary about a year in the endangered life of Arctic ice floe. With 15 years of experience in the area, Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson shoot around, inside, and underneath the compromised habitat of Nanu, a polar bear cub, and Seela, an enchanting walrus calf weighing several hundred pounds, as they try to survive in hunting grounds that may lose all ice by the year 2040 if we don't mend our anti-green ways. The movie's bracing account of animal domestic life—altruistic and predatory in equal measure—and the sheer diversity of family forms (bear cubs are raised by single mothers, walruses by mothers and self-sacrificing "aunts") may be enough to place it on the evangelical right's shit-list. The most heartbreaking moment comes when, two years ahead of developmental schedule, Nanu's hitherto protective mother has to scare her under-prepared daughter into self-sufficiency because she can't feed them both. As agitprop alone, Arctic Tale must be doing something right: Coming out of the theater, my child threatened me with, "Shorter showers, Mom, okay?" (Ella Taylor) (Edwards University, Irvine)
See "Romp and Circumstance," page 45. (Edwards Westpark, Irvine; Mann Rancho Niguel, Laguna Niguel; Regency Lido, Newport Beach)
See "A Star is Bourne (Again)," page 43. (Countywide)
NO END IN SIGHT
Charles Ferguson's No End in Sight turns the well-known details of our monstrously bungled Iraq war into an enraging, apocalyptic litany of fuckups. One may have already heard some or all of the appalling details that Ferguson collects—the well-connected American kid plucked straight out of Georgetown to oversee the Baghdad traffic plan, the $2 trillion price tag, the estimated 700,000 Iraqi civilian casualties—and still be driven to hysterics by the sheer volume of atrocity gathered here. As the movie's more begrudging admirers will likely acknowledge, Ferguson is no Michael Moore. His background is as a scholar and a Brookings wonk, and No End in Sight is less a work of investigation (or activism) than history. There's no psychology in the movie (e.g., Dubya has daddy issues), and neither are there conspiracy theories (e.g., the war is about further fueling Halliburton's tank). On some level, it even endeavors to be a film without politics—and might be that if such a thing were possible. Focusing on the war itself, Ferguson is chiefly interested in compiling a filmed dossier of incompetence—not so much to argue that the war could've been won, but to suggest that the magnitude of arrogant irresponsibility will carry aftershocks as far into the future as the mind can imagine. No end, indeed. (Rob Nelson) (Edwards University, Irvine)
Inspired by the eponymous, semi-skanky dolls that launched a thousand parental protests, this tween comedy does a good job re-branding the Bratz as wholesome do-gooders you'd want to take home to mom—especially if mom likes the ethnics, because Bratz is nothing if not worldly. Blonde, fair-skinned Yasmin is Latina, so of course there's a mariachi band in her kitchen. At eight in the morning. On a school day. Jade, who is half-Asian, is the math and science whiz of the group. Blonde Cloe is a Suzanne Somers-style klutz, and African-American Sasha is a sassy cheerleader. The Bratz spend most of the movie crusading against the insidious clique overlord, Meredith, at authoritarian Carry Nation High. Meredith, with the help of her father, gutless Principal Dimly (Jon Voight), tries to keep the Bratz in line, but the fearless foursome (spoiler alert!) eventually manage to triumph. In the end, the most offensive part of Bratz isn't its stereotypes or brand expansion; it's the sorry state of Jon Voight's career. Up next: National Treasure: Book of Secrets. (Jessica Grose) (Countywide)
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Director Leon Ichaso, already responsible for mucking up a made-for-TV Jimi Hendrix biopic, is back at it with this turgid film about salsa star Hector Lavoe (Marc Anthony), which doesn't so much go behind the music as beneath it. Focusing almost solely on Lavoe's addictions (drugs and women, ho and hum), El Cantante is a garish, dispiriting bit of work—a mountain of biopic clichés snorted through the lens of a fidgety camera that never pauses long enough for us to get to like, or even know the man responsible for making the Nuyorican sound a mainstream American commodity in the 1970s and early '80s. Every so often a character appears to tell us Lavoe's sound "will change everything," but nothing happens after that; it's the same ol' self-pity party as Lavoe, whose papa doesn't approve of his move from Puerto Rico to America, blames everyone but himself for his woes, despite his seemingly instant fame. Worse, Anthony's real-life wife, Jennifer Lopez, tries to make the film about her; miscast as Lavoe's missus, Puchi, Lopez hides behind aging makeup that makes her look like Bebe Neuwirth as she talks to a documentary crew about a husband we don't really see. Hector's "corny," she says, but the movie never proves it. Interesting we'd settle for, but don't get even that. (Robert Wilonsky) (Countywide)
The Saturday Night Live comedy trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer—collectively known as The Lonely Island—shot to the heights of YouTube celebrity with their parody music videos (including the immortal "Lazy Sunday," a.k.a. "The Chronic of Narnia"). Unfortunately, their aggressively silly debut feature film, which stars Samberg as an amateur motorcycle stuntman who dreams of Evel Knievel-style glory, more immediately recalls a different sort of viral video—the ones where anomic suburban teens film themselves engaging in backyard wrestling throwdowns and other sub-Jackass antics. It's not that Hot Rod, which Schaffer directed from a script (by Pam Brady) originally conceived as a Will Ferrell vehicle, doesn't have its moments: I dug the Flashdance-style training montages in which Samberg readies himself for a death-defying 15-bus leap, and I found it hard to resist the movie's '80s nostalgia (running the gamut from the long-forgotten Paul Rodriguez comedy The Whoopee Boys to the musical stylings of Europe). But like so many movies from the SNL factory, there are perhaps 10 to 15 minutes of good, gag-worthy material here stretched out to interminable lengths. Or to put it another way: It's a very small d**k in an oversized box. (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)
A cross between Dekalog and The Meaning of Life, though without the poignant curiosity of the former or the anarchic fury of the latter, The Ten is a star-studded, half-baked, take-it-or-leave-it "goof" on The Ten Commandments, in the parlance of co-writer Ken Marino's surgeon, who's keen on leaving instruments inside his patients' bodies because it makes him giggle. (He's the "thou shalt not kill" commandment, natch.) It's divided into skits pasted together by Paul Rudd-delivered monologues interrupted by his wife (Famke Janssen) and lover (Jessica Alba), and it features recurring characters (played by the likes of Winona Ryder, co-writer Marino, Rob Corddry, Liev Schreiber and others) who glide in and out of sketches like partygoers in search of someone more interesting to talk to. As it was made by David Wain and Marino—the men who brung you Wet Hot American Summer, a film whose sole ambition was to remake Meatballs—it ain't all that interested in theological discussions, merely eliciting a few giggles as it travels down a darkly comic trail in need of a burning bush—unless you count the prison sequence full of "man rape" references. (Robert Wilonsky) (Edwards University, Irvine)
This film was not screened in time for our reviewers. (Countywide)