Monday, March 30, 2015

While We're Young, The Salt of the Earth, Home

While We're Young
The Salt of the Earth

Home (my rating)

Home (Scruffies' rating)

Capsule reviews on the week's new releases:

In my 1.5-star review of last year's "This is Where I Leave You," I wrote of Adam Driver that "I'm willing to believe he has talent, but pretty soon he's going to have to pick a part that doesn't make you want to slug him." In Noah Baumbach's insufferably twee "While We're Young," Driver doubles down on douchiness as Jamie, a hipper-than-thou wannabe documentarian who insinuates himself and his girlfriend Darby (underutilized Amanda Seyfried) into the lives of established documentarian Josh (Ben Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a woman of leisure who doesn't want to join the mommy army that comprises her small circle of friends.

Is it possible that it's not Driver but the character he plays in flick after flick that's making my skin crawl? Perhaps, but it's an actor's responsibility to construct his career, to show what versatility he's capable of and to avoid typecasting. In this movie, we are to believe that Josh and Cornelia become rejuvenated by the presence of Driver's blatant poseur and his vinyl records, undergraduate musings and artisanal avocado ice cream. (Baumbach's inclusion of board games in a montage of Jamie's carefully curated obsolescence only shows how out of touch he is, as does his thirty-year-old conception of documentary film.) Any self-respecting man would run screaming the instant Jamie called him "Joshie," and call the cops if he proceeded to "Yosh."

"While We're Young" turns out to be a surprisingly, and unenjoyably, plot-centric picture. It slowly dawns on Josh that Jamie has been using him to get to Cornelia's dad - a legendary documentarian - and to poach an interviewee from Josh's unfinished six-and-a-half-hour magnum opus. We've known this from early on, creating a situation where we're stuck waiting for the other shoe to drop. I enjoyed three things in "While We're Young": the sight of Naomi Watts dancing to hip-hop music; her best friend's comment that, since she's had kids, "We never do two things in one night"; and one truly hilarious line. Jamie has set up a meeting for Josh with a VC prick looking to blow some money on a movie. It's already going disastrously when Josh asks, "Do you know what percentage of African American men in the U.S. are incarcerated?" "No, I don't know that," the guy says. "Take a guess." The guy thinks for a second and offers, "Sixty percent?"

Wim Wenders' Oscar-nominated documentary "The Salt of the Earth" is a reverent, mostly black-and-white pictorial tribute to his friend, the Brazilian photographer SebastiĆ£o Salgado. It opens with Salgado's iconic and jaw-dropping images from the vast and chasmal Serra Palada gold mines, then continues for almost two hours in a sporadically fruitful search for anything as compelling. I nodded off more than once (at a noon showing), and would have enjoyed an exhibit of Salgado's work at the Annenberg Photography Space more.

Finally, an affectionate thumbs-down for the DreamWorks animation "Home," and mostly for a purple Boov named Oh (what his fellow Boov invariably sigh when they see him), whose syntax bears remarkable similarities to that of the Scruffies' language. I laughed a few times, and the ending is sweet, but it's not one that will linger long in your movie memory. Little Scruffy saw himself in the well-meaning yet hapless Oh, but agreed with Big on a rating of two paws (out of four).

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