I AM ★★★ OUT OF FOUR STARS
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material, including a disturbing image. Where: Uptown. Writer/director Tom Shadyac will discuss the film after the 7 and 9:35 p.m. shows Saturday.
Blockbuster comedy director Tom Shadyac ("Ace Ventura, Pet Detective," "Liar, Liar" "The Nutty Professor") was on top of the world in 2007. And down in the dumps. His extravagant lifestyle wasn't making him happy, and he pondered scaling back to find a new balance in his life. That decision was fast-tracked after a mountain bike crack-up. Sidelined from the rat race during months of painful isolation, he realized the trappings of wealth were genuine traps.
Healed, he grabbed his camera and set up interviews with scientists, spiritual leaders and progressive social critics. He asked two questions: What's wrong with our world, and what can we do about it? The answers are distilled in "I Am," a documentary spin through philosophy, philanthropy and quantum physics. Its buoyant message is that global ills can be tamed by the same principles that ended segregation in the United States and defeated apartheid in South Africa.
Shadyac's fast-paced presentation argues that individual action on a mass scale can change the world. You can't solve world hunger, but you can help the next hungry person you meet, and so on. When enough people make a personal choice to do good, the world improves.
Shadyac overreaches in trying to make the virtues of empathy and cooperation the outcome of universal law. The film invokes genetic research, experiments in parapsychology and quantum mechanics as nature's blueprint for human harmony. This is risky reasoning, since just as many examples of indifference, discord and savagery can be found in the natural world. We shouldn't take those as instructions to murder one another.
"I Am" is strongest when it notes that living things that take just what they need tend to thrive, while gluttony has dire consequences. For his part, Shadyac sold off his string of mansions and now lives happily in a trailer park. It's a very nice Malibu trailer park, but still. His film is a jolt of uplift and optimism at a time when those are in short supply.
THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER
★★★ out of four stars
Unrated but includes violence and nudity. In French, subtitled. Where: Edina.
In veteran director Bertrand Tavernier's hands, a story of swashbuckling adventure, romance and palace intrigue becomes a probing examination of power and ethics.
During France's 16th-century Wars of Religion, the worldly, gallant Comte de Chabannes (Lambert Wilson) deserts the Protestant army, shocked by the barbarous acts he has committed. He returns to the service of his former pupil, Prince Phillipe de Montpensier (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), a bashful youth about to be married to teen heiress Marie (radiant Mélanie Thierry). The arranged union was connived by their fathers, more concerned with the merger of their real-estate holdings than the couple's compatibility. Marie loves the arrogant, handsome studmuffin the Duc de Guise (Gaspard Ulliel). The lusty Duc d'Anjou (Raphaël Personnaz), soon to be King Henry III, covets Marie, and even the chivalrous Comte falls under her spell.
Tavernier creates a world where sex rules human relations, greed shapes history and romantic impulses are as fleeting as the weather. While he's never cynical about his characters, he positions them in a moral twilight zone where we rarely feel justified in admiring or despising them. It's very European that way.