The Invention of Lying

What would it be like to live in a world without lying? I expected the universe depicted in this film to present a reverse image of the Jim Carrey comedy “Liar Liar,” in which the main character finds himself uncomfortably compelled to tell the truth. I expected, that is, one more brash, noisy, agitated film, replete with insults and gross-out jokes. I wasn’t expecting the sweetness in this film, its quietness and thoughtful core. It feels, in spirit, more like a fable, in the mold of mid-century films like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street”. I just wish it were better. I wish the early promise didn’t grow gradually thinner and less authentic—less true.

Animals Before Birth

What is life like “In the Womb”? Thanks to National Geographic, we can refresh our memories with a beautiful book by that title, as well as a TV miniseries that makes use of the most advanced video technology. A new book and series now examines the prenatal life of our fellow mammals—and it’s weirder than you’d think.

All About Steve

You expect certain things from a Sandra Bullock comedy, and if that’s what you’re looking for, “All About Steve” will not disappoint. She’s perky and quirky, slim and lovely, and a very good sport about looking unglamorous (here she survives both a tornado and a fall into an abandoned mine). You’ll be unsurprised to learn that romantic complications arise, followed by a happy ending.  So if you enjoyed “The Proposal” or “Two Weeks Notice,” you’ll surely get a kick out of “All About Steve.”

Motherland

Does this sound like a good idea for a movie? I can’t decide. Take six women who have suffered the loss of a child. Send them together to South Africa, to work with impoverished children. In the security of each other’s company, with a genuine need set before them, their grief is mitigated and healing is begun.As therapy, it’s a great idea.

(500) Days of Summer

Summer Finn, we’re told, is an average woman in many ways—like height and weight, though slightly above average shoe size. (The narrator telling us this, in a wryly amused way, sounds like James Earl Jones, though I can’t find a credit for him.) Yet something about her arrests men’s attention. She gets an average of 18.4 double-takes per day. This is, we are told, “the Summer Effect.”

$9.99

[Christianity Today Movies; June 19, 2009] Stars: 2 Rated: R Cast: Geoffrey Rush (Angel), Anthony LaPaglia (Jim Peck), Joel Edgerton (Ron), Ben Mendelsohn (Lenny Peck), Claudia Karvan (Michelle) A movie is like a parade: before you see the fullness of its pomp and circumstance, you see forerunners, standard bearers, that…

Up

I knew Up was one of those rare first-rate movies when I found myself really yearning to see it for a second time. Actually, that wouldn’t have been so unusual, except that I was still sitting in the theater and had only gotten through 20 minutes of seeing it for the first time. It’s that good. And that in itself isn’t so unusual, considering that this is a film from Pixar Studios, whose previous films (Wall-E, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story) have been not only excellent, but also original. Leave it to the other animation studios to crank out films where bland themes (like “Follow Your Dreams”) provide vehicles for pop-culture references and gross-out jokes. In recent years, Pixar gave us a robot cleaning up an abandoned planet Earth, a rat who wants to be a French chef, superheroes chafing under forced retirement, and the courageous monsters who must inhabit children’s closets. Imagination still exists, in some quarters.

O’Horten

How odd is Odd?  When we meet Odd Horten, he is driving the Oslo-Bergen express train through a blue-white snowy landscape. (This opening-credits sequence is gorgeous:  each dive into a tunnel, each returning plunge through a circle of searing white, is a cinematic marvel.) But a young railroad employee catching a ride up front with Odd finds that it’s very hard to draw him into conversation. Questions and comments get monosyllabic replies, if any. Why is that?

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

[National Review Online: May, 1, 2009] I am not now, nor have I ever been, a fanboy. So why did I get such a kick out of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”? Because the title character is an interesting guy, with a complicated history and complicated feelings. Because the plot has some good twists, not all of which are straightened out before final credits roll. Because the story totes us around to an abundance of intriguing locations and sets, from a Nigerian diamond-processing floor to a Las Vegas boxing ring to an alley in the French Quarter to a nuclear reactor.(My favorite was the trailer of a melancholy carnival worker, stuffed with vintage toys and wind-up gadgets, and a hundred bare bulbs dangling from the ceiling.) It’s got people, places, and stuff worth looking at, and that gives any movie a good head start.

Earth

“Earth,” the first release from the Disneynature films, lives up to its publicity; this film is 85 minutes of jaw-droppingly beautiful clouds, waterfalls, icebergs, and savannahs; of graceful animals, scary animals, funny animals, and excruciatingly cute baby animals. James Earl Jones delivers a narration that is mild and accessible to children. (A typical line: after a shot of a penguin sliding on his belly, Jones says, “You might not know this, but penguins are one of the few creatures born with a built-in toboggan.”) It reopens the tradition of Disney nature documentaries, as in the “True Life Adventures” films of 1948-1960, and a better family-friendly nature film can’t be found.