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New On DVD: 127 Hours, Burlesque, Love & Other Drugs

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(Capsule reviews by Eric Hynes, Dan Kois and Karina Longworth)

127 Hours Watch what James Franco--actor/sleepy grad student/tepid writer/viral video comedian/ conceptual artist/aficionado of gender fuckery--can accomplish when he actually focuses for a couple of weeks. In Danny Boyle's latest, Franco plays Aron Ralston, who in 2003 cut off his own arm after being stuck for five days under a rock in a Utah canyon. The boulder drops about 20 minutes into 127 Hours. Ralston begins devising clever systems of survival and, he hopes, mechanisms of freedom, all the while narrating his predicament into the video camera he's brought along, a device that seems awfully blunt at first, but becomes a fascinating window into how a smart, funny, non-action-hero guy might behave as he tries to think his way out of a catastrophe.

Soon enough, the descent into delirium begins. As Boyle's film flits from the real world--the heavy reality of a man in a canyon, pinned, near death--to the world of hallucinations and memories, so Franco's performance transforms, encompassing both universes. Unlike Boyle's flashback-dependent Slumdog Millionaire, we're not meant to draw explicit lines from past to present--there's no scene of a young Ralston, like, learning to tie a double overhand stopper knot. Instead, the glimpses of his past build an impressionistic picture of a young man so devoted to the pursuit of experience that he's left human connection behind. It's fitting that the film likely to turn Franco--dilettante, enigma, artistic adventurer--into an unapproachable celebrity is itself a passionate, bloody argument for engagement with the world. Dan Kois

95 minutes Rated R

Burlesque

Programmatic by design,

Burlesque

flattens singer Christina Aguilera's inherent thorny appeal--the persona that's at once obnoxiously "provocative" and sympathetic--by laughably casting her as the 21st-century, torch-signing equivalent of Ruby Keeler in a hodge-podge of Busby Berkeley plots, with none of the Depression-era style or social critique. Aguilera's innocent Ali is a small-town orphan who Greyhounds it from Iowa to Hollywood and ends up at Burlesque, a nightclub run by Tess (Cher). Ali keeps her singing talent to herself while working her way up from waitress to dancer in the club's stage show, consisting of highly gymnastic, quasi-comic lip-synch routines set to standards. Running an unconscionably extended 116 minutes,

Burlesque

is nearly half over before Aguilera is allowed to be Christina Aguilera. The superstar is instead shoehorned into a rehashed backstage musical conceit: Good girl is tempted by bad guy, ultimately resists, becomes a star, finds love, and saves the show.

Cabaret

is clearly the guiding reference here: Director Steve Antin confines each musical number to the stage, weaving in off-stage narrative. What worked as a dialectical tactic in that film, creating ironic tension between the worlds onstage and off-, here feels like a tacit admission from Antin that he doesn't have enough faith in the audience's ability to read story and character development into the song and dance itself. Not that he's working with Kander and Ebb: The film's catchiest tune--treated as a throwaway--is, bizarrely, based on a Marilyn Manson sample.

Karina Longworth

116 minutes Rated PG-13

Love & Other Drugs

From a jaunty Spin Doctors-scored opening to a teary, Regina Spektor-cued finale,

Love & Other Drugs

will switch to any style, station, or frequency to keep you entertained. Or at least not bored. (Maybe awake?) The most egregious four-quadrant pander-party of the year, Ed Zwick's latest middlebrow atrocity has been so carefully market-tested--crudeness counteracts romance, slapstick leavens disease-of-the-week melodrama--that it needn't even be seen, just administered directly into the bloody mainstream. Cuddly cubby bear Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, an underachieving late-1990s rich kid who learns to channel his sex drive into pimping pharmaceuticals for Pfizer. He hands out Zoloft and Viagra samples between strategic lays before finding his true calling in the company and care of Anne Hathaway's eagerly proffered breasts. Jamie and prescription-med-junkie Maggie fuck until they make love, then break up/make up over her early-onset Parkinson's. Watching two ripe and fearless young stars nakedly cavort ought to be titillating, but Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are so overexposed here that you feel embarrassed for them. Meanwhile, Jamie's incongruous brother, Josh (Josh Gad, a poor man's Jonah Hill--which is more impoverishment than I thought possible), is crashed on the couch to counteract adulthood with jerk-off jokes. Buried somewhere in Zwick's film might be a topical modern romance, maybe even a health care satire, but you'd need to dig past layers of creative desperation to find it.

Eric Hynes

162 minutes Rated R

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