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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Short Takes: Now on DVD

No End in Sight

This is a good, efficient, effective documentary about the war in Iraq and the flawed policies that have characterized it from the beginning – although if you’ve been paying attention to the news for the last five years, you may not learn much that is new. It has been named the best documentary of the year by many major critics’ groups, but it pales in comparison to Taxi to the Dark Side, a far more disturbing film that deals with Afghanistan and Guantanamo as well as Iraq. For the many who have been paying only half attention (or less) to the war, this could be a valuable, instructive work. But they are the least likely to see it, of course.

Stardust

An entertaining little B-picture at heart, although of course in the current fashion it has been lavishly overproduced. But it remains unpretentious and charming, and it features Michelle Pfeiffer in yet another exhilaratingly skillful turn as a villain, coming just a few weeks after Hairspray.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Superbly crafted, somewhat mindless fun, just like the first two. It has two set pieces, one in London’s Waterloo Station, the other a chase through the streets and along the rooftops of Morocco, that are among the best of their type ever. Paul Greengrass is one of the most skilled directors in the world, and two of these romps are enough for him. I can’t wait to see what he does next, after making 2006’s best movie, United 93.

Superbad

A fun, silly, goofy, charming teenage sex farce. The three lead performers, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, are so good that they lift the film to a higher level than its appealing, good-natured energy would otherwise reach.

Hairspray

Fun fun fun. Nothing great, and not as exhilaratingly transgressive as the John Waters original, but a very enjoyable romp. I miss some of the music from the Waters film too, particularly “The Madison.” It wouldn’t have hurt to mix some of those oldies in with the Broadway score, would it? Michelle Pfeiffer is particularly delightful as the villainess.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

By streamlining the longest of the Potter novels into the shortest of the films, the writer and director have come up with an efficient but rather bloodless end result. The most inspired of the five Potter films so far remains Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – proof, as if it’s needed, that mere competence is trumped by directorial passion and originality every time.

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