DVD Traffic Report: April 15, 2008

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480_juno-dvd.jpgJuno (Fox)

Yes, it’s absolutely crazy that this was nominated for Best Picture. Still, Juno is a pretty good time, elevated by the wry comic performance at its

center—the 20-year-old Ellen Page delivers an endless succession of

one-liners like she’s just vocalizing every colorfully sarcastic,

occasionally scabrous thought that pops into her head. It’s a breakout

performance that humanizes a script by erstwhile stripper (but you knew that) Diablo Cody that’s just a

little too reliant on clever verbiage to create completely credible

characters. Page plays Juno, a newly pregnant 16-year-old who, appalled by her visit to the local

abortion clinic, decides to carry her baby to term. The first

two-thirds is played for laughs, contrasting Juno’s

air of worldliness with the gentle confusion of her boyfriend (Michael

Cera of Superbad) and the quiet desperation of the young couple

(Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) seeking to adopt. In the third act,

the air of hipness dissipates and Juno becomes just the story of a girl who knows she’s in over her head and

tries her best to do the right thing. Songs from the likes of The Moldy

Peaches, Belle and Sebastian and even The Velvet Underground amplify

the feeling of twee folksiness, but the emotions are, finally, honest

and complex. A version of this review originally appeared in The White Plains Times.


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480_devil-dvd.jpgBefore the Devil Knows You’re Dead (THINKfilm)

From its opening (a graphic sex scene featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman

and Marisa Tomei, the latter of whom is spectacularly nude) to its climax (violent tragedy of Shakespearean

proportions), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead seems engineered to

demonstrate what Sidney Lumet is still capable of. After his glory days

in the 1970s, Lumet slid

into relative obscurity, but this flawed but vigorous thriller (shot

partly on the old St. Agnes Hospital site in White Plains) is an

unexpected comeback for the 83-year-old director. Hoffman plays Andy, a

New York real-estate accountant with a six-figure salary and money

problems that won’t go away; Ethan Hawke is Hank, his hapless younger

brother. Andy cooks up a scheme to raise some cash by having a masked

Hank knock over the jewelry store owned by their parents. Disaster

results. The scenario is unlikely at best — even if you accept the

premise, why would Hoffman’s character be stupid enough to let Hank

plot the robbery on his own? And the story’s chronology is jumbled in a

way that’s meant to raise the level of intrigue, but repeatedly

destroys forward momentum. Still, it’s an enjoyably pulpy melodrama; it

just never achieves any emotional resonance. A version of this review originally appeared in The White Plains Times.

The Pied Piper of Hutzovina (Arts Alliance America)

Fans of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello — a musical experience that I can recommend highly — will be most likely to appreciate this rough documentary about lead singer Eugene Hutz’s journey across the Ukraine, visiting gypsy enclaves with a guitar in his hands and a song in his heart, or reuniting with his dear grandmother. (He emigrated with his parents to the U.S.) Unfortunately, the context for the trip is director Pavla Fleischer’s unrequited schoolgirl crush on Hutz. Maybe there’s a great semi-romantic story somewhere to be clear, but if so Fleischer steers well clears of the kind of (painful? embarassing?) details that would flesh out her relationship with her subject. Instead, she comes off as a little fragile and naive — her last-minute realization that Hutz is an honest-to-goodness rock star feels anticlimactic, particularly since the movie would only benefit from a few more glimpses of Hutz in hammy on-stage mode. Still, she’s got some good material. I’m especially fond of the scene in which Hutz gets dissed, hard, by the head of a gypsy theater in Kiev who believes that his westernized music represents, basically, everything that’s worth fighting against. It helps put Gogol Bordello’s ferocious punk rock in a somewhat controversial cultural context.

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