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precarious since 1997 | by maryann johanson

new on DVD: male pretense and female drag, from ‘Munich’ to ‘Big Momma’s House 2’

Two of the best films of 2005 hit DVD today, and both of them are about taking a look from a slightly askew angle at concepts of masculinity and how testosterone has driven Western civilization. Heady stuff, sure, and not the stuff of simple popcorn entertainment, yet both Steven Spielberg’s Munich (not reviewed/buy at Amazon) and Terence Malick’s The New World (not reviewed/buy at Amazon) are compelling in their drive to root out the underlying assumptions of our culture about what a man is and what a man is supposed to do… and how the actions that come about because of those assumptions can, sometimes, be poisonous. On the surface, the two films — the former about a fictionalized national-security response to the terrorist incident at the 1972 Summer Olympics, the latter about the mythology that has arisen around the relationship of Englishman John Smith and Amerindian Pocohontas — couldn’t be more different, but look closer, and both are about not only who we are but how we invent the stories about who we are. Fantastic performances by, respectively, Eric Bana, as a Mossad agent, and Colin Farrell, as John Smith, don’t hurt, either.

On a lighter note (but kinda not really, either), Nanny McPhee (read my review/buy at Amazon) is a newfangled fairy tale with old-fashioned bite, and a rare example of a movie aimed at kids today that puts them in their proper place, as wild savages in need of civilizing, not as adorable monsters who show up their elders. Emma Thompson in ugly-nanny drag is a hoot.

Which is more than can be said of Martin Lawrence in the totally unnecessary Big Momma’s House 2 (read my review/buy at Amazon). If movies like this one showed any genuine sense of the absurd, they might work, but, par for the course these days, it tries to be realistically sentimental and “dramatic” and asks you not to suspend your disbelief, and so you spent the whole movie thinking, How can anyone not see that that is a guy in a fat suit and bad granny drag?

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