New on DVD: I Am Love, Leaves of Grass, Jonah Hex

(Capsule reviews by Melissa Anderson, J. Hoberman and Nick Pinkerton)

I Am Love As unrepentantly grandiose and ludicrous as its title, Luca Guadagnino's visually ravishing third feature suggests an epic that Visconti and Sirk might have made after they finished watching Vertigo and reading Madame Bovary while gorging themselves on aphrodisiacs. That it works so well -- despite frequently risible dialogue ("Happy is a word that makes one sad") and a notion of feminism that carbon-dates around the time Kate Chopin published The Awakening -- is a testament to the film's loony sincerity and seductive voluptuousness.

Guadagnino's "social melodrama" is anchored by the magnificence of Tilda Swinton, who plays Emma Recchi, the unhappy, unfulfilled Russian wife of a Milanese industrialist and mother of three adult children whose carnal desires surface after her son's friend, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), prepares her a plate of perfectly seasoned shrimp. There's nothing especially novel, of course, about exploring the soul-crushing emptiness of marriage to a titan of industry. But I Am Love may be the first film in which the lonely heroine finds inspiration in her daughter's lesberation. For all its corny social studies, I Am Love never forgets the lust that drives its narrative. Swinton and Gabbriellini make an extremely foxy couple, her translucent flesh complemented by his dark hair and beard. Their assignations are all action, little talk; when Guadagnino focuses solely on the primal, the effect is spellbinding. Only the words get in the way. (M.A.)

120 minutes Rated R

Leaves of Grass Leaves of Grass is an ambitiously high-falutin' pot-head laffer--which is not to say it's in any way outrageous, visionary, or even particularly funny. The most notable thing about Tim Blake Nelson's movie is its stunt casting. Edward Norton plays twins--identical and equally improbable: Billy Kincaid is a straight-arrow Ivy League classics prof who transcended his dirt-farmer roots, while laidback brother Brady stayed put to become the down-home king of hydroponically farmed cannabis sativa. Brady, of course, is just as brilliant as Billy, and a lot craftier--stuck in a jam, he cleverly lures his estranged brother back to Oklahoma to unwittingly provide him with a physical alibi while he sorts out his messy business with a drug lord in Tulsa. Norton is fully capable of shouldering the movie's comic burden, although Nelson surrounds him with a gaggle of hambone performances. The liveliest cameo is provided by Richard Dreyfuss as the toughest Jew in Tulsa, who at one point wields a menorah in self-defense. With its comic regionalism and ethnic stereotypes, sudden shifts in tone and cultivated eccentricity, farcical violence and escalating body count, Leaves of Grass is highly evocative of another brother act, namely Joel and Ethan Coen. Unfortunately, Nelson is not nearly so gifted a filmmaker. I don't much care for the Coens, but the sad truth is that their cynical nihilism is a lot less spurious than Nelson's earnest sentimentality. (J.H.)

104 minutes Rated R

Jonah Hex Bracingly inept, Chef Boyardee spaghetti western Jonah Hex is the rare 80-minute movie that you can't even call "taut." Rather than teasing out curiosity about its outcast hero's past, Jonah pelts the viewer with clumps of exposition, including a hasty comic-book-graphic origin montage illustrating the strange case of Hex (Josh Brolin), a former Confederate war machine whose near-death experience gave him the ability to talk to the departed--hardly utilized or meaningful, given the movie's fatuous killing. We catch up with Hex roaming the steampunk Wild (Wild) West, now a heavy-ordinance bounty hunter with his face half-melted into a permanent growl, a reminder of the former commanding officer, Turnbull, who destroyed his life (played by John Malkovich, pulling his purring villain off the shelf). It's 1876, and guess-who is plotting to construct a sort-of Doomsday Merrimack to sail into the Chesapeake Bay and level Washington, D.C., for President Grant's July 4th Centenary address. Grudgingly tapped to save the Union, Jonah gets help from strategic Black Friend gadgeteer Lance Reddick and strumpet galpal Megan Fox, who looks like she's waiting for the invention of clear heels. Metal outfit Mastodon's soundtrack riffs never lock down a groove with the image, interesting actors flit by barely used, and franchise ambitions quietly expire. (N.P.)

82 minutes Rated PG-13

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