One never expects John Malkovich to gently ease into a role. But the combination of laissez-faire, where's-my-check distraction and oh-here's-the-scenery-to-chew he gives us as the titular artist in Klimt is truly shocking. Told in multiple flashbacks from the perspective of a bedridden and near-death Gustav Klimt, this film by Raúl Ruiz stumbles all over itself in its attempts to position the painter as an anti-establishment decadent. But like the many college freshmen who believe they've discovered "art" by tacking "The Kiss" to their dorm room wall, Ruiz's approach is peppered with pretense and smug superiority that's undermined by the commonplace visuals and hackneyed dialogue throughout. Yes, there are plenty of nude females, temperamental outbursts by our beleaguered artist and an overabundance of half-drawn allegorical characters, but Ruiz fails miserably trying to bind these elements into a cohesive and engaging piece of film. Even the central conflict — Klimt's struggle for reputation among the chattering, bourgeois parlor class of turn-of-the-century Vienna — never gets much traction, due mainly to the fact that Malkovich's Klimt usually seems much more interested in portentously uttering bons mots about art and life than he is in actually painting. —Jason Ferguson
New Line Home Entertainment
It's been 13 years since John Cusack's first leading role in The Sure Thing. That film kick-started a seemingly never-ending string of empathetic romantic comedies in which Cusack's an articulate sad-sack joe struggling to connect with his dream chick. Sure, he has done great work (Say Anything, High Fidelity and Better Off Dead), but who can forget the clunkers (Serendipity and Must Love Dogs)? Fact is, it's Cusack's dramatic work that gets his stock rising in critical circles.
What makes Cusack great is his innate ability to deliver emotional believability and punches to even the most rudimentary story. Enter 2007's Martian Child, a rather schmaltzy film that won't give up Oscar gold but finds Cusack in classic form. He plays successful sci-fi writer David Gordon, a widower still healing from the sudden death of his wife two years earlier. David considers adopting a kid — an idea influenced by his wife, who was also adopted. A foster home worker pairs him with Dennis (Bobby Coleman), a young boy who believes he's from Mars. David initially resists, but he comes to realize that his own childhood alienation might make him the perfect pop for Dennis.
Cusack pretty much flies solo here and he hits all the right notes. But Bobby Coleman seems out of his depth playing the delusional and traumatized Dennis, though the performance isn't horrible. The talented A-list supporting cast is largely wasted in underwritten roles. Note: Martian Child is based on the autobiographical novel by David Gerrold, who wrote the Star Trek fan fave "The Trouble with Tribbles." Extras on the DVD include an interview with Gerrold and his now-grown son. —Paul Knoll
Magnolia Home Entertainment
If you're one of those Pollyannas who view straight-to-DVD movies as a time-saving modern convenience, hold off on viewing this until they make self-ejecting DVDs. That way you'll miss every frame of this excruciatingly formulaic comedy about a dorky young intern (Ben Gourley) at a law firm whose dreams of one day becoming a partner hinge on him transporting his boss' cute and annoying niece (Mila Kunis) and her pet pig cross-country. On the way, they'll meet a cross-section of free-spirited Americans (read: dumb, fat hicks) — the kind you'd want to shoot and then turn the gun on yourself if you had to stand and listen in a checkout aisle. Natch, these two get in a hot tub with 'em — and just watch as the vomit chunks fly by. (This would qualify as a spoiler alert but trust us, nothing is being spoiled here. Nothing.)
What's more, Gourley's qualifications for starring are obvious — he's also the writer and director. As lead nerd he tries out various types of whining, wearing nerdy glasses and parting hair in the middle, all of which he'll shed to signal getting the girl and in the process finding himself in big, obvious flashing neon letters! But his most serious lapse is not giving the starring role to professional cinematic dork John Heder, who's might've made this schlub semi-believable. Instead, Heder's squandered for marquee value as is Rutger Hauer (as the boss), who mostly appears in dream sequences and laughs like an evil genie when your wish that this movie would just be over never comes true. None of which will matter to the real target audience here, male Mila fans who watch That '70s Show with the sound down while moving their own little pet pigs ... uhhh, you know ... north and south. Joe Public, you're disgusting! —Serene Dominic
The Kingdom: Series 2
In November 2005, Koch Lorber finally made available to U.S. customers the first part of Lars Von Trier's stunning TV mini-series, Riget (The Kingdom), nearly 10 years after it had appeared on Danish television. Though the release was undoubtedly a response to the buzz garnered by Kingdom Hospital (Stephen King's adaptation of the original series), it was nonetheless a welcome development. Previously available only on shoddy import DVDs — if it could be found at all — the series captivated Denmark's audiences in much the same way that Twin Peaks captured the imagination of U.S. viewers. And for fans and students of Lars Von Trier's work, it was that much more of a godsend. For in The Kingdom, one gets a concise and engrossing look at all that makes Von Trier such an engaging filmmaker: the experimentation, the (mostly dark) humor, the playful surrealism, the multiple plot threads, the rich (and often unsubtle) symbolism ... all jammed into an hour-long television episode. Series 2 is, as the name implies, the second installation of the mini-series, and it seamlessly continues the story begun in the first. To go into the plot is almost unnecessary; Von Trier uses the hospital backdrop as merely a canvas to paint various, semi-connected stories about ghosts, fast-growing babies, record-setting tumors and staff members in various states of insanity. While either installation of the series could be viewed separately — in fact, each episode stands well on its own — The Kingdom is best viewed in its eight-episode entirety, on a weekend when you've got nothing better to do than lose your mind. —Jason Ferguson