September 2, 2009

Though hyped as a return to old-school journalistic exposés like All The President’s Men, the prosaic political thriller State Of Play (Universal) is notable mainly as a mournful elegy for the newspaper itself, right down to a fetishistic opening montage of a story making its way to print. Unsurprisingly, it’s naïve about the way news-gathering and reporting works in the new media world; at one point, a major scoop is held so subscribers can absorb it with ink-stains on their fingers. Fat chance…

Half Nelson co-writers/directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden confirmed their status as gifted young filmmakers to watch with Sugar (Sony), a beautifully observant fish-out-of-water drama about a talented young Dominican pitcher who’s drafted by the majors and travels to the scary, exotic world of Iowa. Fleck and Boden’s character study takes its sweet time going nowhere in particular, but the film’s leisurely pace and loose structure prove a big part of its appeal… 

The producers of BBC/Discovery’s Planet Earth series spent $40 million collecting gorgeous aerial shots and nature footage from spots around the globe, and got back more than was needed. So another 90 minutes—with 80 percent previously unused footage—was assembled for Earth (Disney), a pictorial essay that mixes anthropomorphic cuteness, Darwinian savagery, and worrying evidence of global warming’s destabilizing effects…

Sin Nombre (Universal) won a well-deserved Best Cinematography award at Sundance earlier this year for its breathtaking images of Central American immigrants heading north on the tops of trains, risking their lives on the slim chance that they’ll cross the border into the United States. It’s unfortunate that the script, about a Honduran teenager on the run from gang members, stumbles into so many clichés. Turn the sound down, and it looks like a masterpiece.