See "This is Their Brain on Drugs" (Countywide)
The flamboyantly gifted Indian moviemaker Mani Ratnam has an epic romantic temperament, like a reform-minded 19th century novelist, with a great eye and a trunk full of Panavision lenese. In his most characteristic works, such as Bombay (1995) and Dil Se (From the Heart, 2002), he places intimate personal stories at the eye of the storm in sweeping political and social dramas. Ratnam's enthralling and eventful new picture, Guru, is one of his best yet; in fact it may be the best Indian commercial ("Bollywood") movie since the Oscar-nominated Lagaan (2000). Inspired by the rags to riches story of a real-life Indian petrochemical tycoon, the late Dhirajlal "Dhirubhai" Ambani, it's a realistically textured biographical thriller staged on an operatic scale. It aims at nothing less than the canonization of a new type of cultural icon for post-socialist India. Re-named Gurukant "Gurubhai" Desai and played with an exhilarating mixture of high-stepping enjoyment and focused determination by Abishek Bachchan, the movie's Ambani surrogate is a village boy who lays the groundwork for a huge company simply by pouncing on opportunities that others miss. We enjoy rooting for this enterprising businessman hero, and not just because we identify with the character's delight at working out a clever new way to avoid paying excise taxes. He's a hero not in spite of the fact that he's a crafty corporate Capitalist but because of it—because his textile factories have created tens of thousands of jobs, and because the ordinary people he recruited as shareholders have been hoisted out of poverty by his success. Some elements of Desai's story test positive for sentimentality, including his playful, ardent relationship with his plucky wife (Aishwarya Rai). The failure to make the private lives of the characters resonate with the main story is an unusual one for Ratnam, owing perhaps to his overriding drive to valorize Guru as a positive force in Indian public life. But the film is a triumph of casting: In a role that is often about the sheer steamrolling force of his character's personality, Abishek Bachchan's attention to detail makes Guru accessible rather than intimidating, admirable but also plausible. In the end this Guru is just like one of us, only richer. (David Chute) (Naz 8, Artesia)
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
See "Behind Enemy Lines" (Edwards University, Irvine)
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
ARTHUR AND THE INVISIBLES
The wildly uneven French writer/director/producer Luc Besson has a fondness for life outside the margins of conventional society: the neon-lit labyrinths of the Paris Metro (Subway), the pristine depths of the ocean (The Big Blue). His latest finds him subterranean once again, this time in a fantastical universe where elves and fairies—so small that they are invisible to human eyes—live in harmony with nature. Adapted from his own series of children's books, this live-action/computer-animated hybrid follows 10-year-old Arthur (Freddie Highmore), who, in order to save the home he shares with his somewhat addled grandmother (Mia Farrow), must decipher his grandfather's diary. Following the clues, Arthur, now a 3-D animated figure sporting cool shades and spiked hair, enters the mythical Seven Kingdoms, where he joins forces with sexy CGI princess (voiced by a delightfully unrecognizable Madonna) and her chubby, rubber troll of a brother (Jimmy Fallon) as they battle the evil Lord Malthazard (David Bowie) for buried treasure. Predictable and overly busy, this sci-fi adventure should nonetheless appeal to computer-game-savvy tots, especially those familiar with the source material. (Jean Oppenheimer) (Countywide)
GOD GREW TIRED OF US
See "Accidental Tourists" (Select LA theaters)
It's more than a little deceptive to sell a film as a serial killer thriller when the "murderer" in question is in fact a giant crocodile; even more so when the croc barely gets 10 minutes of screen time, while its supporting cast makes hopeless attempts at character development. Dominic Purcell, who's like Jason Statham without the charisma, plays a disgraced reporter traveling to Africa alongside nature documentarian Aviva (Brooke Langton, who's like Eva Mendes without the hotness), Funny Black Guy cameraman Steve (Orlando Jones, who deserves better), and Steve Irwin-y animal guy Matthew Collins (Gideon Emery, dullsville). There, they learn that life in Africa is hard, especially with those warlords and oversized reptiles picking on everyone. With a little camp this could have been fun (see: Lake Placid, Anaconda), but director Michael Katleman (see: episodes of Gilmore Girls, Tru Calling) doesn't play it that way, and even Jürgen Prochnow's crazed Ahab wannabe is unfortunately understated. Plus, despite an R rating, all the kills are glossed over in high-speed shaky-cam. (Luke Y. Thompson) (Countywide)
STOMP THE YARD
From the eardrum-shattering shout of "Attention!" that echoes over the opening logo through to the strobe-lit krump dancing contest that follows, the early scenes of Stomp the Yard are so loud and incoherent that they feel like punishment. After an equally incomprehensible street brawl, director Sylvain White pauses long enough to introduce his protagonist—DJ (Columbus Short), a talented young dancer incarcerated for his role in said brawl and, upon his release, shipped by his moms from South Central to Atlanta's ever-so-subtly named Truth University (a fictional amalgam of prominent black colleges). There, DJ falls for a fine sister (Meagan Good), whose father—the dean of Truth—doesn't look kindly on his little angel socializing with an ex-felon. What's a brother to do? Why, put his fancy footwork to use in service of step-dancing competitions, a tradition at black fraternities and sororities, which, as filmed by White with an overload of slow-motion effects and high-speed shutters, are about as cinematic as a televised Riverdance concert. Newcomer Short has charisma, charm, and athleticism to burn, but it's mostly for naught in a movie that spends two tedious hours pulling out every stop in the gold-hearted-kid-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks-meets-gold-hearted- girl-who-values-true-love-above-pivilege playbook. (Scott Foundas) (Countywide)