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Baby, You’re a Star. No, Really. That’s Your Role.

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Frank Oz directed, and his metronomical pacing helps. Farce is better when the audience knows pretty much what’s going to happen and more or less when it will and yet laughs anyway. The element of surprise is lost, but it’s replaced by something more rare: an admiration for the elegance of the machine.

The 11th Hour says the machine that is the Earth is breaking down. It isn’t much of a movie (unless your aesthetic was formed in high-school science class), but it will be hugely informative to aliens who land on this planet in a thousand years and wonder why there’s no welcoming committee. It opens with a barrage of catastrophes—floods, avalanches, and fires intercut with high-resolution photos of an embryo, plus a voyage through the birth canal. The point is that children are being born into a world in its death throes: It seems a tad hysterical until you see Dorothy Gale fly over Bay Ridge.

My friend Bill McKibben has been crying in (and from) the wilderness about climate change since his great eighties book The End of Nature, which helped get him branded “an environmental wacko” by Rush Limbaugh and heaps of ridicule in more respectable circles. Last week, Sharon Begley’s superb Newsweek cover story on the global-warming denial industry traced the origins and funding of the skeptics—who in any other culture would be the ones labeled wackos (or worse). The 11th Hour, directed and written by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, mixes in enough hard science to make the Deepak Chopra New Age flummery less easy to snicker at. I think “tree-huggers” have a lot to say, but the people who make the strongest cases here do so from a purely economic vantage. The corporations heating up (and ripping up) the planet for short-term economic gains are—as Thom Hartmann puts it—depleting the Earth’s ancient stores of energy. Their methods are a monument to waste. Their checkbook is insanely unbalanced. Among the brilliant speakers are David Orr, Andy Revkin, Vijay Vaitheeswaran, David Suzuki, Paul Hawken, Stephen Hawking, and even Bill McKibben. For narrator Leo’s sake, though, someone should have told the directors that shorter, punchier sentences work better than longer ones with lots of internal clauses.

Jason Kohn’s gripping Manda Bala (“Send a Bullet”) is the opposite of a high-school science doc. It’s a free-form portrait of a place—Brazil—with scary running motifs: kidnapping, mutilation, plastic surgery, bulletproofing, and frog farming. On a breathtaking widescreen, Kohn surveys a city, São Paulo, in which abduction and ransom are big business, in which plastic surgeons get rich replacing earlobes sliced off and mailed to families, in which corruption reaches from the country’s most powerful senator to its least powerful slum-dweller—a kidnapper who muses that maybe one of the ten kids he mutilates people to support will grow up to be president and change things for the better. The sums skimmed from northern Brazilian frog farms are nothing compared to, say, what Halliburton makes off the average bungled Iraqi plant or hospital, but it’s enough to play havoc with the Brazilian Amazon, which is enough to accelerate global warming. And there goes Dorothy over the Verrazano!

Stardust
Directed by Matthew Vaughn. Paramount Pictures. PG-13.

Death at a Funeral
Directed by Frank Oz. MGM. R.

The 11th Hour
Directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners. Warner Independent. PG.

Manda Bala
Directed by Jason Kohn. City Lights Pictures. NR.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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