The critically-acclaimed, Oscar-winning No Country For Old Men comes to DVD this week, accompanied by a litany of fellow Fresh films (Lake of Fire, Summer Palace, Dan in Real Life) as well as a gaggle of critical duds (Hitman, Bee Movie, August Rush, and more).


No Country For Old Men

Tomatometer: 94%

Joel and Ethan Coen add another celebrated film to their resume with this four-category Oscar-winning thriller about a bag of stolen cash, a man on the run, the killer on his tail, and the old lawman desperately trying to make sense of it all. While we’ll get no commentary track on this initial DVD release (just wait for the inevitable super-sized special editions), three features comprise the bonus menu, but the film itself is its own reward — just ask those Academy voters.

Bee Movie

Tomatometer: 54%

Jerry Seinfeld‘s bid for post-Seinfeld success came last year in the form of a honeybee: a neurotic, rather Jerry-esque bee named Barry Bee Benson, to be exact, who leaves corporatized hive life for the great big world of humans in New York City’s Central Park. When Barry discovers that humans have been stealing the hard-earned honey of his buzzing brethren, he takes the most American action there is — he sues the human race. With a supporting voice cast that includes Chris Rock, Renee Zellweger, Patrick Warburton, and Matthew Broderick — and cameos by Sting, Ray Liotta, and Oprah WinfreyBee Movie is full of that familiar Seinfeld sardonic humor, although, as the critics say, it’s fairly forgettable.
Dan in Real Life


Tomatometer: 66%

Steve Carell‘s trademark hangdog deadpan finds appropriate anchor in this romantic comedy from Peter Hedges (Pieces of April). Carell stars as Dan, the widowed father of three girls who writes an advice column for a living; when Dan meets his dream girl (Juliette Binoche) during a family get-together, he’s elated — until he learns she’s his brother’s new girlfriend. A soundtrack by Swedish singer-songwriter Sondre Lerch underscores Dan’s comic heartache, though some critics found the script to be occasionally too flat and contrived. A decently packed bonus menu with director commentary, deleted scenes, and outtakes round out the disc.

August Rush


Tomatometer: 38%

Freddie Highmore, Britain’s omnipresent kid actor, stars as a musically-gifted orphan on a quest to find his birth parents — and exposure any and every person he meets along the way to the magic of music. Sound schmaltzy enough for you? Well, throw in Robin Williams (channeling his doppelganger, U2 front man Bono) as a musical street pimp named Wizard, salvation in the form of a choir, and lines like “The music is all around us. All you have to do is listen,” and you’ve got one heckuva a saccharine smorgasbord.

Nancy Drew


Tomatometer: 48%

If, like some of us, you were an avid fan of the Nancy Drew mystery books — over 170 stories published under the pseudonym “Carolyn Keene” since 1930 — then you might have felt some apprehension when a feature-length film about the classic sleuthing teen was announced. Unfortunately for us purists, the reviews confirm those fears. Emma Roberts stars as the titular teen, whose prudish, Type-A manner clashes with the spoiled kids she encounters when she and her dad (Tate Donovan) move to Tinseltown. A Hollywood mystery surfaces, of course, but grown audiences will remain unspooked. I say, bring on the Choose Your Own Adventure movie instead!

Sleuth


Tomatometer: 36%

The gimmick of casting this cat-and-mouse thriller is intriguing on its own; having starred as a young adulterer opposite Laurence Olivier in 1972’s Sleuth, Michael Caine now plays the older role opposite Jude Law in Kenneth Branagh‘s remake. Unfortunately, the script by Harold Pinter, adapting Anthony Shaffer’s play, fails to serve the two leads well, making for a tedious time — unless you enjoy watching two distinguished British actors out-act one another. Law, Caine, and Branagh make recompense in a jointly recorded commentary track in the special features.

 

Hitman


Tomatometer: 15%

With a title like Hitman, you know what you’re getting into with this video game adaptation from French director Xavier Gens (Frontier(es)). Timothy Olyphant stars as a bar coded professional killer named Number 47 dealing with his sinister bosses, a Russian politico, and a hot prostitute (Olga Kurylenko) on the run. Overwhelmingly derided by the critical set, who might alternately recommend the film to a PS2-obsessed pre-teen boy, Hitman at least serves one purpose: bringing you a closer look at future Bond girl Kurylenko half a year before Quantum of Solace hits theaters.

Lake of Fire


Tomatometer: 94%

When Nirvana covered the Meat Puppets’ “Lake of Fire” in their Unplugged album session, they sang that the Biblical body of water was “where bad folks go when they die.” In his sprawling documentary on abortion, director Tony Kaye brings us a comprehensive look at the often violent, always vehement hot button debate that has raged for 25 years since Roe vs. Wade. Kaye, who filmed the doc over a period of 17 years, is the same director who earned Hollywood’s praise for directing the 1998 skinhead drama American History X (then disappeared from view following his bitter falling out with New Line and star Edward Norton). Be warned that Lake of Fire contains graphic images; a commentary with Kaye accompanies the DVD.

Summer Palace


Tomatometer: 70%

A young rural woman gets accepted to Peking University and encounters sexual awakening, politics, and discontent against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square protests in controversial director Lou Ye‘s epic drama. Actress Hao Lei gives a brazen performance as the film’s restless protagonist, who spends over two decades (the late 1980s to the 2000s) struggling to get over the lost love of her life. At over two and a half hours, Ye’s film could be split into two stories — one of the young woman and another of her adult years) — but his film captures the zeitgeist of an entire generation forever marked by Tiananmen-era experiences, at times recalling the verve of Godard and the French New Wave. Shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival without government approval, the sexually-explicit film was subsequently banned in China, its filmmakers censured from further filmmaking for a five year span.

 

So there you have your new releases for this week. In the words of the ancient Romans, “Amicule, deliciae, num is sum qui mentiar tibi?

A little over a week after reporting the names of the dozen films being submitted for Oscar consideration in the animated feature film category, Variety has given readers the 15-film shortlist for the awards’ feature-length documentary prize.

The majority of the nominees focus on war — particularly the war in Iraq, which provides the central subject for Body of War, No End in Sight, Taxi to the Dark Side, and Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. Other war-themed films include White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The Rape of Europa, and Nanking.

Michael Moore‘s Sicko, arguably the year’s highest-profile documentary, is also being submitted for consideration. Notable omissions from the shortlist are In the Shadow of the Moon, The King of Kong, and Terror’s Advocate. The last batch of submissions, from the article:

Rounding out the list are Sean Fine and Andrea Nix‘s “War/Dance,” Tony Kaye‘s “Lake of Fire,” Weijun Chen’s “Please Vote for Me,” Daniel G. Karslake‘s “For the Bible Tells Me So,” Bill Haney‘s “The Price of Sugar,” Peter Raymont‘s “A Promise to the Dead: The Exile Journey of Ariel Dorfman” and Tricia Regan‘s “Autism: The Musical.”

It now falls to the Academy to winnow the list of 15 down to five nominees, to be announced January 22.

Source: Variety

This week at the movies, we’ve got honeymooners (The
Heartbreak Kid
, starring
Ben Stiller
and
Michelle Monaghan
), teenage heroes (The
Seeker
, starring

Alexander Ludwig
), bookworms in love (The
Jane Austen Book Club
, starring
Maria Bello
and Emily
Blunt
), and fledgling rappers (Feel
the Noise
, starring

Zulay Henao
). What do the critics have to say?

For Rhode Islanders, the work of
Bobby and
Peter Farrelly has long been a source
of regional pride; their best work (There’s Something About Mary,
Dumb
and Dumber
) deftly combined taboo-busting, gross-out yucks with an
undeniable sweetness. So it breaks the heart of this Ocean State native to
report that their latest,
The Heartbreak Kid
, isn’t generating all that
much warmth with the critics. Based upon
Elaine May‘s 1972 semi-classic, Kid
stars Ben Stiller as a recently-married guy who quickly learns his new bride has
much more baggage than he bargained for; on his honeymoon, he meets Miranda
(Michelle Monhagan), who just might be the right gal for him. The pundits say
that while the film does contain a smattering of raunchy laughs, they seemed
shoehorned into the film, undercutting character development and any kind of
message. At 48 percent on the Tomatometer, this Kid isn’t alright. It’s
certainly a cut below the original (at 89 percent).




The Village People recruits its seventh member.


If a compelling, magical fantasy world is something you’re actively seeking,
critics say you may want to avoid
The Seeker
. Based upon the Newberry
Award-winning book series, The Seeker is the story of a 14-year-old who
discovers he’s the last in a long line of noble fighters dedicated to battling
an evil force called the Dark. (Uh, so was Thomas Edison, like, the greatest of
those warriors? Just asking.) Critics say The Seeker is several notches
below the
Harry Potter
films in terms of emotional resonance and
filmmaking quality, and underutilizes the talents of
Ian McShane and
Frances
Conroy
. At 25 percent on the Tomatometer, The Seeker may not be what
you’re looking for.




They seek him here, they seek him there, his clothes are loud but
never square.


If your sensibilities run toward action flicks, you are likely prejudiced
against light comedies about smart people and their relationship troubles. In
the case of
The Jane Austen Book Club
, the critics say you might want to
swallow your pride. The film tells the story of a group of six women whose book
club assignment is for each to read one of Austen’s novels; they soon find
events in their lives eerily paralleling the texts they’re reading. The critics
say that what could have been a bland exercise in chick-flick-dom is elevated by
an outstanding cast that includes Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, and
Kathy Baker;
each of the principals plays her part with intelligence and warmth. If you’re so
inclined, The Jane Austen Book Club‘s 72 percent Tomatometer should offer
ample persuasion to check this film out.




"Okay, so you take a left after Northanger Abbey, and a right at Mansfield Park…"



Critics weren’t allowed to come on and
Feel the Noise
, perhaps because
it’s either too wild, wild, wild for them to understand, or it isn’t all that
good. Either way, this tale of an aspiring rapper who finds love and redemption
in the Puerto Rican Reggaeton scene was not screened before hitting theaters.
You know the drill: Guess that Tomatometer!

Also opening this week in limited release:
Lake of Fire
,
Tony Kaye‘s
expressionist, evenhanded documentary about the abortion debate, is at 100
percent; Desert Bayou, a doc about the plight of African-American
Hurricane Katrina refugees in Utah, is at 100 percent;
My Kid Could Paint
That
, a portrait of an artist who’s a very young girl (and may not be solely
responsible for her highly-valued canvases), is at 100 percent;
For the Bible
Tells Me So
, a doc that explores the Good Book’s teachings on homosexuality,
is at 89 percent;
Kurt Cobain: About a Son
, an impressionistic look at
the life of the Nirvana frontman, is at 82 percent;
Michael Clayton
,
starring George Clooney as a corporate whistleblower, is at 81 percent (check
out our review from the Toronto Film Fest
here);
Finishing the Game, a
mockumentary about an attempt to complete
Bruce Lee‘s
Game of Death
after
his untimely demise, is at 50 percent; and
The Good Night
, starring
Gwyneth Paltrow in the tale of a romance that takes place in a man’s dreams, is
at 46 percent.




Trivia question: which of these men has been around the world, from London
to the Bay?

Recent Ben Stiller Movies:
——————————–
44% — Night at the Museum (2006)
52% —
Tenacious D In: The Pick of Destiny
(2006)
25% — School for Scoundrels (2006)
55% — Madagascar (2005)
69% —
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

(2004)

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