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Film Reviews 

Including this week's pick, Cavite

Wednesday, May 24 2006
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GO PICK CAVITE Co-directors Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon’s jugular thriller plays like a no-budget, guerrilla-style variant on Hollywood’s recent Cellular, with the caveat that Cavite is actually good. When Adam (Gamazon), a young Filipino-American night watchman, travels from San Diego to Manila to attend his father’s funeral, no sooner does he arrive than he finds himself a puppet on the string of a terrorist organization that claims to have kidnapped his mother and sister. What follows is nearly as taut from a political standpoint as it is from a narrative one, as Adam scurries through bustling marketplaces, menacing back alleys and poverty-stricken shantytowns, frantically obeying the sinister orders barked at him by a voice at the other end of a cell-phone connection. Adam’s unseen tormentor isn’t purely a sadist — he wants to open the Westerner’s eyes to the harsh social realities of contemporary life in the Philippines, with its lingering vestiges of U.S. imperialism. As you stagger out of the theater after 78 breathless minutes of Gamazon and Dela Llana’s electrifying location shooting and disquieting insights into Christian-Islamic tensions, you may well feel that your eyes have been opened too. (Nuart) (Scott Foundas)GO LEMMING Like Michael Haneke’s Caché, this effectively creepy little customer from Dominik Moll (With a Friend Like Harry) fires yet another shot across the bows of French bourgeois complacency, while throwing in a wink and a nudge about the perils of surveillance. I like Moll’s film better: For all its knowingly preposterous plot, Lemming is both less weighed down and less puffed up by its political ambitions than Caché, and Moll is far more amused by his own stagy atmospherics. In any case, who wouldn’t want to be disrupted by Charlotte Rampling, even as the cathartically rude and predatory wife of an entrepreneur (André Dussollier), who barges into the seemingly tranquil life of her randy husband’s employee Alain (Laurent Lucas) and his unflappable wife, Bénédicte (Charlotte Gainsbourg). She’s not the only intruder: Alain has invented a flying webcam that he claims can penetrate any interior and diagnose trouble; and a blocked pipe coughs up a decidedly unsuicidal lemming that nonetheless proves adept at bringing out a ruinously self-destructive streak in its hosts. Moll is exquisitely attuned to the way sound rubs up against silence, dark against light, and his shading of psychology into the supernatural is deliciously mischievous. Was it all a hideous dream? Does it really matter, in a hugely entertaining horror-comedy whose only unambiguous message is that you might want to think twice about unblocking your kitchen sink? (Music Hall) (Ella Taylor)

QUALITY OF LIFE Quality of Life swirls around the bifurcated lives of two working-class San Francisco graffiti writers. House painters by day, Mickey (Lane Garrison) and his best friend Curtis (Brian Burnam) bomb the city at night while paying lip service to the harangues of Mickey’s dad (Luis Saguar) and Curtis’ live-in girlfriend (Mackenzie Firgens). Ever committed to his streetwise art, Mickey slowly recognizes the increasingly pressing need to grow up, while Curtis spins increasingly (and disastrously) out of control. It’s a setup as old as the hills, but the unvarnished simplicity with which first-time director Benjamin Morgan rolls it out makes the tale worth another go-round. Morgan and Burnam’s script comes unadorned. It never overplays the filmmakers’ knowledge of the graffiti life or lingo, but at the same time draws an unexpected and intriguing parallel between graffiti’s impermanence and the meditative art of creating Buddhist sand paintings. This is, after all, San Francisco. It’s Garrison and Burnam who hold the film’s center, however, with a natural magnetism. Newcomers both, they take the same clean approach to their roles that their characters bring to their tags. Morgan bathes his roving imaging with grainy, intensely saturated colors but otherwise keeps his direction as straightforward as the script. (Laemmle’s Fairfax) (Paul Malcolm)

SEE NO EVIL The killer in this nasty yet taut slice-and-dice-’em horror flick is a collector of eyeballs, which he removes from his screaming victims with an efficient single swooping motion of his talonlike index finger. If that image makes you grin, not cringe, then this movie’s for you. It’s obviously been designed for fans of Saw, the torture-happy horror franchise that’s transformed art-house distributor Lions Gate (Crash) into Hollywood’s premiere — and enviably profitable — house of gore. (Torture is to Lions Gate what Dracula and the Wolfman were to Universal and what Freddy Krueger was to New Line Cinema.) See No Evil’s Jacob does not speak, but he clearly loves his work, which involves pitching a long chain with a meat hook on its end at the six teens and two adults who’ve foolishly entered the abandoned hotel he calls home. The 7-foot-tall, 300-pound wrestling star known as Kane plays Jacob with obvious relish, but the real star is the hotel itself, upon which production designer Michael Rumpf and first-time director Gregory Dark have heaped a lovingly detailed heap of dust and decrepitude. It appears, too, that they got a discount on cockroaches. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

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