New on DVD: The Extra Man, Avatar The Kids Are All Right, Lottery Ticket, Cats & Dogs 2, The Last Airbender
(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson, J. Hoberman, Dan Kois, Michelle Orange and Robert Wilonsky)
The Extra Man
Delicate, gangly Louis Ives (Paul Dano) yearns to be both a Gatsby-era gentleman and a pretty young lady. Caught fondling a lacy brassiere, he's dismissed from his teaching post at a Princeton prep school and heads to New York with writerly aspirations, sharing an East 91st Street apartment with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), a dye-job blowhard who makes his living as a walker to desiccated society matrons. Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman's adaptation of Jonathan Ames's 1998 bildungsroman affectionately honors its characters' idiosyncrasies, never diluting them into typical indie-comedy quirk.
Kline flourishes in the role of a well-cured ham: When not escorting Upper East Side octogenarians, Henry devotes his energies to reviving his playwriting career, frenzied movement therapy in the living room, and lecturing Louis with advice that's "to the right of the Pope." Kline's manic behavior is nicely balanced by Dano's awkward conflict about his disparate sources of pleasure, putting down his copy of Washington Square to seek out a trannie bar. Though their peculiarities are heightened, Henry and Louis aren't broadly drawn; going below the surface, the filmmakers and the cast (including a marvelous performance by Marian Seldes as an osteoporotic doyenne) successfully create the hardest characters to pull off: exotic yet recognizable New Yorkers. (M.A.)
The money is on the screen in James Cameron's mega-3-D, mondo-CGI, more-than-a-quarter-billion-dollar baby, and the bling is almost blinding. For the first 45 minutes, I'm thinking: Metropolis! Then the 3-D wears off and the long second act kicks in. The movie opens brilliantly with an assembly line of weightless mercenaries disembarking at planet Pandora's earthling (that is, American) base--a fantastic military hustle, with the paraplegic volunteer Jake (Sam Worthington) wheeling through a sea of Jeeps, trucks, and robots. Every shot is a fascinating study, thanks to the plethora of depth-complicated transparent monitors, Kindle-like devices, and rearview mirrors that Cameron has positioned throughout the frame. The Sky People, as the native Pandorans or Na'vis call them, are on a mission to strip-mine this lushly verdant planet to save their own despoiled world. As preparation, they are attempting to infiltrate the Na'vis by linking human consciousness to Pandoran avatars. Thus Jake finds himself inside a 12-foot-tall, blue-striped, yellow-eyed, flat-nosed humanoid--and he can walk! When, waking up back in the lab, Jake realizes that "out there is the true world and in here is the dream," you know that it's time for him to go native, complete with tender blue-monkey sex. Avatar seamlessly synthesizes live action, animation, performance-capture, and CGI to create what is essentially a non-participatory computer game. But the muscular visuals can only trump the movie's camp dialogue and corny conception up to a point. (J.H.)
The Kids Are All Right
Serious comedy, powered by an enthusiastic cast and full of good-natured innuendo, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right gives adolescent coming-of-age and the battle of the sexes a unique twist, in part by creating a romantic triangle between a longstanding, devoutly bourgeois lesbian couple Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and the newly identified, merrily free-spirited sperm donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), responsible for both the couple's teenage children. Normality, as made clear by the introductory family dinner that features two mothers acting all motherly, rules. (The moms' designated kink is their occasional use of gay male porn as an aphrodisiac.) Whereas Cholodenko's two previous features, High Art (1998) and Laurel Canyon (2003), each focused on an innocent young woman swept up in the glamorously baffling sex-and-drugs scene swirling around a charismatic older female artist, the situation here is reversed; unexpectedly drawn in to and fascinated by the ultra-domestic household created by a pair of charismatic femmes, the swinger is the straight man (literally). Premiered last January at Sundance, The Kids Are All Right triggered a lively bidding war. The enthusiasm is unsurprising: It's actually a pretty conservative movie. Given its juicy premise, The Kids could have been played for sitcom, reality show, or soap opera--had it had been made in 1970, it might have been an Echo Park Teorema, with everyone winding up in bed together. Ten years into the 21st century, it's a heartfelt poster for family values. (J.H.)