Granted there’s a glut of environmental movies--March of the Penguins An Inconvenient Truth the upcoming Leonardo DiCaprio-narrated The 11th Hour even Happy Feet--but really it should only be the tip of the iceberg. Movies such as those above and Arctic Tale are vital so we can see how devastating the effects can be on humankind’s excess and drastic climate change. With Arctic Tale wrapping this message up into an engaging story about some of the Arctic’s primary denizens—in this case an adorable polar bear cub named Nanu and a walrus pup named Seela—keeps things close to the heart. Narrated by Queen Latifah these two youngsters have it tough from the get-go but the fact the very ice that makes up their kingdom is literally melting away makes it near impossible to survive. For example Nanu and Seela both have to venture away from their disappearing ice-bound realm swimming for days in the open sea looking for a place where they can get food and shelter. It’s heart-wrenching--and it brings the point home. The predators and the hunted actually have to band together to face this single danger and seek out new ways to live in a world where the rules have changed. Queen Latifah brings her own wry sense of humor and ghetto fabulousness to Arctic Tale. She especially comes to life when she narrates Seela’s exploits with her large extended family. Walruses are a gregarious bunch and Latifah does a great job describing the sea animals as they flop around on each other on a floating ice floe or play “pull the flipper” after eating pounds and pounds of clams. Yes even farting walruses are funny. But comparisons to Morgan Freeman who is so very commanding in March of the Penguins will abound—and unfortunately Latifah doesn’t do the job quite as effectively. March of the Penguins has raised the bar; not since Born Free has a nature film been more inspiring powerful or exquisitely shot. But maybe that’s a good thing for wildlife filmmakers who now must aspire to capture nature’s grandeur and beauty the way Penguins did. Arctic Tale’s cinematography may not be as crisp as Penguins but filmmakers Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson who--through the National Geographic Natural History unit--certainly give it their best shot to bring us Nanu and Seela’s stories. They spent the last 15 years getting to know their protagonists “very carefully ” shooting over 800 hours of soul-stirring footage in the Canadian Arctic. Most effective are the shots underneath the ice where we see Arctic life in the murky depths--not only the walruses but other extremely unique aquatic animals such as thick-billed murres birds that actually fly underwater and narwhals fascinating whales with unicorn-like horns on their heads. Overall Arctic Tale's one true message is clear: Stop global warming before it’s too late.
Hostel: Part II picks up where the first Hostel left off—and then Paxton (Jay Hernandez) wakes up. It’s the last nightmare he’ll ever (be able to) have. Cut to Rome where three American girls—wealthy Beth (Lauren German) sex-craving Whitney (Bijou Phillips) and naïve awkward Lorna (Heather Matarazzo)—have completed their art class after painting a nude model (Vera Jordanova) and are off to Prague via train. While en route they bump into that same nude model who convinces them to change their plans and come with her to an exclusive hot-springs spa in Slovakia. And so their fates are sealed. Once they check in at their hostel with the bellboy who might as well be Satan’s little helper the bidding begins. All around the world the well-to-do-but-not-well-meaning vie for a chance at torturing and savagely murdering these fresh American college gals. And the winners are: Stuart (Roger Bart) and Todd (Richard Burgi) two Americans with WAY too much money on their hands. Thus begins the torturing—of the audience. There is an underrated skill in being able to act scared to death for your life—and in Hostel II’s case whatever prop cutlery was used to poke at the victims’ bodies probably made acting spontaneously easier. Most of the cast however tends to overdo it here. The lone exception is German (A Walk to Remember) making this by far her biggest acting splash to date as the heroine…type. She more so than the others is forced to emote rather than just shriek and she shows ability that reaches beyond horror movies. Phillips (Bully) and Matarazzo (Welcome to the Dollhouse) meanwhile though disparate character-wise both over-act: Matarazzo especially tries too hard to be gawky even if it makes for a starker contrast when her character is well you know. And grossly—pun intended—miscast is Desperate Housewives actor Bart who--no matter the volume and amount of F-bombs he drops--isn’t game for the uber-depravity that writer-director Eli Roth was going for. In fact the foreign unknowns outperform their American counterparts quite a bit in this sequel. First thing’s first: If Hostel II managed to snag an R rating then hardcore porn should be rated G! Now on to writer-director Eli Roth. To his credit the horror god possesses a mind sicker than any other contemporary filmmaker including returning exec-producer/endorser Quentin Tarantino but that doesn’t mean he knows how to tell a story. There's not a whole that goes on between the jaw-dropping scenes of torture the audience has come to half-see which begs the question: Would Hostel II be anything at all if not for said sadism? In addition a lack of true story brings to light another potential flaw in the Roth system—he doesn’t frighten us so much as disturb. But therein lies the good as well. If you like to be disturbed in a strictly I’d-never-do-this-but-maybe-it-happens-somewhere kind of way Roth is most certainly your man. Of course if you like to be disturbed by a film in any way Roth is most certainly your man. He’s got a wild and prolific imagination and when he turns it on the resulting images are unlike anything you’ve ever seen or want to see again—impossible to look at or away from. If only he could expend it on the stuff surrounding the imagery.