New On DVD: Every Day, A Film Unfinished, Four Lions, Inside Job, Jackass 3, Morning Glory, The Next Three Days

(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson, J. Hoberman, Dan Kois, Karina Longworth and Ella Taylor)

Jackass 3-D The ultra-lo-fi, skate-culture-spawned, extreme-stunt brand that turned its freak show of featured players into celebrities, the Jackass franchise pounces on Hollywood's latest cash-cow fad with its third feature film. Even in 3-D, the basic formula is the same as it's been for a decade: staged daredevil antics alternate with hidden camera pranks on both unsuspecting strangers and one another. Not making a full 3-D film by any means, director Jeff Tremaine exploits the trendy format as punctuation to mostly 2-D action: Some stunts get high-def 3-D instant replay, others seem designed to climax in an immersive spray of bodily fluids. The visual one-liners (fart-powered dart gun, penis-as-baseball-bat) aren't terribly fresh, but the comedy gets more complicated in stunts that force the stars to confront what they claim are their biggest fears.

That these phobias mostly involve relatively mundane things like snakes and heights is fascinating, partially because the boys are so comparatively nonchalant when it comes to aggressively scatological and homoerotic setups (a "volcano" that erupts feces, two Jackasses superglued together in a 69 position), and partially because these fear-facing exercises allow for the expression of what seems like genuine, unscripted panic. The sporadic technological polish of Jackass 3D is at odds with these flashes of ecstatic truth. Jackass is at its best when all composition breaks down, or, to put a finer point on it, when all is going to shit. Karina Longworth

Every Day

Ned (Liev Schreiber), the beleaguered patriarch in writer-director Richard Levine's middling first feature, slogs through slowly simmering domestic and work stresses. Wife Jeannie (Helen Hunt) has begrudgingly allowed her sour, incapacitated father (Brian Dennehy) to move into their Queens home; recently out teenage son Jonah (Ezra Miller) has set off Ned's mildly homophobic concerns (later realized, phobically, in the film); Ned's boss, Garrett (Eddie Izzard), show runner of Mercy Medical, demands more labyrinthine, debauched storylines. Levine, previously a writer for

Nip/Tuck

, sets the bar low, content to work within the shopworn crises, lazy epiphanies, and eye-rolling moments of redemption that have become standard formula in Amerindie family dramedies of the past 20 years. But what distinguishes Levine's film from, say, last year's similarly themed (and irredeemable)

Happy Tears

is his cast--and not just reliable vets like Schreiber. Curly-haired dumpling Skyler Fortgang, as Jonah's younger brother, Ethan, offers much more than just wide-eyed cutes. But it's Miller, perfectly balancing teenage recalcitrance and vulnerability, who's the most exciting to watch: Following his debut in

Afterschool

and

City Island

, he's become one of the best adolescent actors working today.

Melissa Anderson

93 minutes Rated R

A Film Unfinished

Does it matter that a young Israeli filmmaker's imaginative reconstruction of an abandoned Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw Ghetto is not, strictly speaking, a documentary? Not if it sets a crucial historical record straight. Discovered by East German archivists after World War II and accepted for decades as one of the few visual documents of life inside the ghetto, the 1942 film--in which rich Jews lived the high life in the ghetto, while ignoring or exploiting the suffering of the poor Jews--was revealed as manipulative distortion once a British film researcher uncovered a fifth reel of outtakes in 1998. Mixing staged scenes with documentary footage of starving or dying Jews, the new footage made clear that the Nazis forced more prosperous-looking Jews into service as actors in order to portray the ghetto as a place of unpalatable extremes they created themselves. Filmmaker Yael Hersonski, herself the granddaughter of a Warsaw Ghetto survivor, rebuilt the rough cuts into

A Film Unfinished

, adding commentary from nine survivors as they watch, as well as excerpts from ghetto documents and testimony from the only identified Nazi cameraman on the project. The most wrenching testimony comes from an elderly Israeli survivor of the ghetto who, watching the film, covers her eyes, then finds solace in the fact that she has recovered enough humanity to find her past unbearable.

Ella Taylor

90 minutes Not Rated

Four Lions

It would be unwise to consider

Four Lions

a movie that has much to say about radical Islam or the threat of terrorism. Instead, think of

Four Lions

as

Airheads

, except that instead of the idiots wanting to get their song played on the radio, the idiots want to blow themselves up. Though Chris Morris's very funny movie revolves around a cell of hapless would-be terrorists, its chief concerns, and strengths, have little to do with ideology--and everything to do with comedy. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is a security guard whose sweet wife and son ask him constantly how his plans for jihad are going. Despite a failed trip to a training camp in Pakistan--where real terrorists call Omar "fucking Mr. Beans"--he has managed to recruit a gang of like-minded radicals, all of them building bombs for the final conflagration. Among the broad comic types that make up Omar's band of numbskulls--the dimwit, the blowhard, the rich kid--funniest of all is sheepish Fessal (Adeel Akhtar), who quietly admits he'd like to bomb U.K. pharmacy Boots because "they sell condoms that make you want to bang white girls." And while there are explosions in

Four Lions

--people die, as well as a sheep and a very unlucky crow--it's the scenes of delightfully witless banter, devised by Morris and his three co-writers, that are the film's real special effects.

Dan Kois

Upcoming Events

90 minutes Rated R

 

Inside JobInside Job

, Charles Ferguson's follow-up to his Iraq War gut-twister

No End in Sight

, is a documentary that inspires sickening ire--20 minutes in to this lucid yet stupefying account of the 2008 global economic meltdown, my vision was clouded by the steam wafting from my ears.

Inside Job

makes a familiar tale cogent: Bankers pumped up the housing market by offering subprime mortgages like free tastes of heroin, then bundled these dubious loans as investments--the debt sold to eager and/or naïve customers while they themselves were insured against loss with credit default swaps. Encouraging even more gambling, the SEC lifted restrictions on the banks so that they could play with ever-more borrowed money and rating agencies colluded in the frenzy. You may remember that the party ended with a bang two years ago, when the reality police appeared at the frat-house door and the capitalist system went into cardiac arrest. Midway through

Inside Job

, Ferguson begins a search for accountability, mixing it up with unrepentant Big Board hustlers, confounded government regulators, and obfuscating academics. Small solace to watch the rogues squirm: No one, Ferguson points out, has yet been prosecuted for fraud. And although

Inside Job

attempts to exit on a positive note, the movie is most despairingly proof of the existence of a permanent government. The upcoming election is less likely to throw the rascals out than elect a new passel in.

J. Hoberman

108 minutes Rated PG-13

Morning Glory

In the climax of

Morning Glory

, Rachel McAdams is dressed in the kind of cocktail dress a screen heroine wears when a slow-building love plot is coming to a head; it is the perfect costume for, say, leaving one suitor to run across Manhattan to another. Which McAdams's Becky ultimately does, although the competitors for her attention are professional rather than personal. The only love

Morning Glory

truly cares about is the passionate but sexless amour fou between a girl and her work. As new executive producer of a failing morning show, Becky swiftly proves her worth by firing a pervy male co-host and replacing him with Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford). Soon, the film's major conflict is set: "The world has been debating news vs. entertainment for years, and guess what? You lost!" Becky chides former war correspondent Mike. You could call their snappy back-and-forth "banter," but this is hardly high screwball: McAdams is mostly a perky and patient pitcher, setting Ford up for all the best lines. Glory's central non-professional romance, between Becky and hunky Patrick Wilson, is cursory and unconvincing. That there's no sexual charge between McAdams and Wilson might be a chemical problem between the actors, but it could also be intentional: Work is what turns on

Morning Glory

's most charismatic characters, to the point that outside relationships seem dull in comparison. That idea, and director Roger Michell's occasional counterintuitive stylistic choices, sometimes make you forget that you're watching a generic product.

Karina Longworth

107 minutes PG-13

The Next Three Days

"What if we choose to exist solely in a reality of our own making?" asks Pittsburgh community-college lit professor John Brennan (Russell Crowe) rhetorically to his class in

The Next Three Days

, Paul Haggis's fourth effort as director. Like his lumpy protagonist, Haggis, who also scripted this remake of the 2008 French thriller

Pour Elle

, too confidently assumes viewers are as quick to abandon sense and logic. The film's ordeal begins one morning three years ago at the breakfast table of the loving Brennan household, which includes short-fused wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks, barely onscreen) and three-year-old son Luke. Domestic bliss is interrupted as the cops barge in to arrest Lara for murder, right at the moment she's trying to wash a bloodstain out of her trench coat. Convinced of his wife's innocence, John cooks up labyrinthine plans to spring Lara from jail, involving a lot of Googling, blowing up a meth lab, and packing a toiletry kit for her great escape. Haggis has never been one for nuance or persuasive storytelling, as anyone who's seen

Crash

or

In the Valley of Elah

knows. But a co-writing credit on 2006's

Casino Royale

at least proved his ability to map out a sleek caper. That skill is not evident in

The Next Three Days

, which is so overcrowded with incompetent cops and near-mute blood ties that it fails in its attempts to maintain any suspense and establish John as a devoted family man, monomaniacally driven to a desperate act.

Melissa Anderson

122 minutes PG-13


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