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CAPSULE MOVIE REVIEWS

'The Age of Stupid'

Also: 'Homecoming,' 'The Queen and I,' 'Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America,' 'The Poker House' and 'Tony Manero'

July 17, 2009|Gary Goldstein; Robert Abele; Kevin Thomas

It could be the end of the world as we know it, at least according to U.K. filmmaker Franny Armstrong's inventive documentary "The Age of Stupid," which adds a futuristic, sci-fi twist to the vital issue of climate change. Think "An Inconvenient Truth" but with a personality, numerous ones actually, as Armstrong hops the globe interviewing an intriguing cross section of folks -- a Hurricane Katrina victim, a British wind farm developer, an aspiring Nigerian doctor, an elderly French mountain guide, a wealthy Indian entrepreneur and an 8-year-old Iraq war refugee -- whose lives have all been affected by some aspect of the global warming phenomenon. Their stories vividly highlight the various tentacles of the climate change problem and, in some cases, its potential solutions.

At the same time, actor Pete Postlethwaite plays a fictional "last man on Earth" circa 2055, who's holed up in an arctic storage facility looking back, via a giant transparent touch screen, at archival clips and footage of Armstrong's real-people profiles, in an attempt to reconcile how ignoring climate change led to the Earth's "total devastation." Though this narrative device can feel a bit gimmicky and grandiose, it also provides a visual and emotional power that drives home this absorbing film's crucial cautionary message.

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Gary Goldstein --

"The Age of Stupid." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. At Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.

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'Homecoming'

is a brutal time

"Misery" loves company, in this case a youth-skewing B-grade redo of that hostage chiller called "Homecoming" that replaces Stephen King's homicidal author fan with an I-will-not-be-denied ex-girlfriend. When college freshman Mike (Matt Long) returns to his blue-collar Pennsylvania hometown over the titular-themed break to see his high school football jersey retired, he brings pretty, rich new squeeze Elizabeth (Jessica Stroup) to introduce everywhere. Mike's old flame Shelby (sad-eyed looker Mischa Barton), who now runs the town bowling alley and harbors rekindling fantasies, is not amused. A late-night road accident puts an injured Elizabeth in Shelby's care, which involves treatment surely missing from the nursing handbook. Director Morgan J. Freeman keeps an appropriately jangly clip at times, and in Barton puts forward a surprisingly funky villainess, in that her stilted line readings and awkwardness as an ax wielder give her whack-job trajectory a nervy kick. (So beautiful! So screwy!) Stroup makes for a strongly sympathetic victim too, her eyes always on the lookout for an escape, even when the ramifications prove violent. But ultimately "Homecoming" feels a little thin for date night heartbeat-racing, neither trashy nor self-consciously funny enough to make its genre-trapped ludicrousness sing.

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Robert Abele --

"Homecoming." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At the Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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Vikings stranded in 1007 America

Tony Stone's "Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America" is not a documentary but an ambitious imagining of events drawn from the Vinland Sagas, the mythic story of the Norse exploration of America. Stone's admirable and persuasive evocation is unfortunately marred by his self-defeating resort to flurries of claustrophobic, fragmented hand-held shots that obfuscate just about every crucial plot development in the film. Reviewers are lucky, for Stone has provided an excellent synopsis of his film, but without it one could surely never be certain as to what was actually happening in this inherently demanding and austere film's most crucial moments.

It's a shame Stone didn't trust in straightforward clarity because the story he tells is solidly constructed and psychologically acute. The year is 1007 and members of a Viking expedition have been left slaughtered on a North American beach by Abenaki Indians -- called the Skraeling by the Vikings. Two Viking scouts, Orn (Stone), who has long, flaming red hair, and the dark, bearded Volnard (Fiore Tedesco), having already gone deeper inland, are left stranded. Their slim hope for survival is to head north at all costs, where another Viking expedition just might come along to rescue them. They are skilled at living off the unspoiled land, but their destinies are shaped by encounters with two Irish priests enslaved by the Norse and inadvertent survivors of a shipwreck, and with the Abenaki.

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Kevin Thomas --

"Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America." MPAA: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. In Old Norse and Abenaki with English subtitles. At the Sunset 5, West Hollywood.

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A queen and a rebel in exile

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