November 20, 2009 in Features

‘Bruno’ fails to get beyond its crudeness

Washington Post
 
Universal Pictures photo

Sacha Baron Cohen portrays the title role character in “Bruno.” Universal Pictures
(Full-size photo)

Coming up

Among upcoming DVD releases (schedule subject to change):

Tuesday: “Angels & Demons,” “Four Christmases,” “Funny People,” “Shorts”

Dec. 1: “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” “Paper Heart”

Dec. 8: “The Cove,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “Julie & Julia,” “Public Enemies”

Dec. 15: “G-Force,” “Herb & Dorothy,” “Inglourious Basterds”

‘Bruno’

The latest mock-documentary satire from comic provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen is mostly a misfire.

Taken from Cohen’s TV program “Da Ali G Show,” Bruno is a gay, Austrian host of a fashion show. As the film opens, he makes a mess of a runway and is “schwartzlisted” from the industry. He attempts a comeback by going to Hollywood and, eventually, the Middle East and American South.

Whether it’s a painful episode involving Bruno trying to trap presidential candidate Ron Paul into making a sex tape or trying to broker Arab-Israeli peace or his encounters with gay “converters” in Alabama, the skits here don’t add up to anything substantive. Cohen’s targets are too easy and his raunchy, puerile stunts are just that, nothing more. (1:28; R for pervasive, strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and profanity)

‘Star Trek’

“Star Trek” is an origin story that, unlike such recent downers featuring the Incredible Hulk and Wolverine, pays affectionate respect to its source material but never falls into the trap of slavish worship.

Zachary Quinto plays Spock with surprising pathos, and a clever setup pits him against James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), giving the film its fraternal rivalry. Director J.J. Abrams proves to be an able steward of this narrative and these characters. (2:02; PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content)

‘My Sister’s Keeper’

Anna (Abigail Breslin) is an 11-year-old conceived by her parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) to harvest umbilical-cord blood, bone marrow and various organs for their daughter Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), who has leukemia.

Anna has hired an attorney (Alec Baldwin), demanding to be “medically emancipated” from her parents: She doesn’t want to donate the kidney she was bred to give up.

Then the focus turns to Kate’s story, when she meets a fellow patient and falls in love. It’s an undeniably affecting sequence, but it represents one of several tonal shifts that make the film an ever-widening shaggy dog story. (1:49; PG-13 for mature thematic content, disturbing images, sensuality, profanity and brief teen drinking)

‘Humpday’

If prizes were handed out for low-budget movie with the year’s highest concept, one would have to be reserved for Lynn Shelton’s film, in which two straight, former college buddies decide to make a gay porn film together.

Ben and Andrew (Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard), along with Ben’s wife, Anna (Alycia Delmore), work up a loose-limbed, improvisatory energy, but the film radiates with the sheen of a project that has been thought out within an inch of its witty and insightful life. (1:35; R for strong sexual content, pervasive language and a scene of drug use)

‘Is Anybody There?’

As Edward in this sweet if not terribly innovative film, Bill Milner plays a boy who lives in a rambling retirement home in England where death is an inevitable occurrence.

Enter Michael Caine as Clarence, a former magician who is getting a little dotty. He sets out to divert Edward’s attention from the morbid side of life, and the two eventually forge a brief friendship.

Caine is magnificent, and the film is worth a look for his contribution alone. But Milner is a promising actor, too, and the pairing of young and old is believable and occasionally very moving. (1:34; PG-13 for language, including sexual references, and disturbing images)

‘The Limits of Control’

Jim Jarmusch’s latest meditation on male soloism has no emotion, no compelling characters, no unity of effect and, consequently, no good reason to be seen.

It does have great actors slumming as vague philosophical notions, though. Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Gael Garcia Bernal pass in front of Jarmusch’s camera and say weird things.

A lone man in a sharkskin suit (Isaach De Bankole) encounters each of them while on an undefined criminal mission in Spain. He must rely on these strange people to lead him from clue to clue.

Jarmusch has taken the idea of a caper, drained it of plot, action and suspense, and set it against an absurdist background where every symbol, person and incident should convey meaning but doesn’t. (1:30; PG-13 for violence and brief sexual and drug references)

Also available: “Downhill Racer: Criterion Collection,” “The Exiles,” “Farscape: The Complete Series,” “Gone With the Wind: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition,” “How to Be,” “Michael Jackson: The Interviews, Vols. 1 and 2,” “Rome: The Complete Series”


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