Film Reviews 

Barnyard, Brothers of the Head, The Night Listener and more

Wednesday, Aug 2 2006

 GO BARNYARD Even an advanced case of critter fatigue shouldn’t stop you from rushing out to see this delightfully cheeky animated tale of a farm full of good but misguided beasts under siege from wily coyotes and their own social disarray. Protected by the wise, brave old cow Ben (voiced by Sam Elliott), the animals, egged on by Ben’s irresponsible party cow of a son Otis (Kevin James), spend their time boogying — until Ben goes the way of all benign parents in studio movies, leaving the barnyard a rudderless ship and forcing Otis to consider mending his prodigal-son ways with only a clapped-out horse (Danny Glover) to mentor him. As earnestly stuffed with worthy message as this sounds, Barnyard, written and directed by Steve Oedekerk of Ace Ventura fame, is jazzed by breezy irreverence and a mischievous use of rock & roll that revels in the sheer fun of juvenile irresponsibility. Packed with noisy action, this isn’t exactly a toddler date movie (even when targeting this age, the studios are going after boys, with a few chickadee sops to little girls); but the giddily indeterminate approach to bovine gender — Otis is as generously endowed with udder as is the pregnant lady cow (Courteney Cox) for whom he falls with a thud — and charmingly sappy adoption subtext lend ample appeal to this decidedly non-Orwellian story of four legs good, two legs irrelevant. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)

BOYNTON BEACH CLUB With due respect for older moviegoers hungry to see the pains and pleasures of aging represented on the big screen, it hurts to think that some of them are willing to be fobbed off with this execrable excuse for a senior comedy, which only got a distributor after it screened through the roof among the Early Bird crowd in Florida. Sloppily cooked up by Desperately Seeking Susan’s Susan Seidelman and her mum, Florence, Boynton Beach Club is set in an active-adult retirement community, with a fairly distinguished cast trying to bend itself around Seidelman and Shelly Gitlow’s gag-ridden screenplay, as a group of bereaved seniors looking for love and friendship. A threadbare plot peeks through the shameless run of shopworn jokes about Viagra, stashed-away dildos, eager old dames delivering unsolicited casseroles to freshly widowed men. Sally Kellerman and Len Cariou bring some sorely needed self-respect to a couple going through dating pains, and Dyan Cannon, once you get over the shock of what the surgeons have done to her face, makes a warm and lively friend to newly widowed Brenda Vaccaro. The rest is best seen as a pilot for a Golden Girls spinoff, ready for cancellation in week two. (Selected theaters) (Ella Taylor)

THE DESCENT In British writer-director Neil Marshall’s girl-power fright flick, six female friends set out on a weekend cave-exploring expedition somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, just a few miles up the road from where nobody can hear you scream. Then there’s a cave-in, and as our adventurous heroines scramble toward daylight, they discover they’re . . . not . . . alone. Arriving prehyped as one of the scariest movies of all time (it isn’t), The Descent starts out as a creepily absorbing, Cronenbergian experiment in psychological horror, as the terror of claustrophobia brings the women’s subconscious fears and desires to the fore. But once it’s made clear that these friends are merely dinner for a family of batlike humanoids (imagine the alien from Alien crossbred with Deliverance’s albino banjo-picker), the movie devolves into a conventional man-versus-nature pursuit, further marred by performances just this side of a high-toned porno and the frequently irrational behavior of its characters (though maybe that’s Marshall’s way of showing us what he really thinks of the fairer sex). The Descent is compulsively watchable, with its fair share of effective sledgehammer shocks; it just isn’t very good, even by the most forgiving trash-art standards. Incidentally, well before the carnage begins, the movie does nothing to make the “sport” of spelunking seem even remotely appealing. I mean, you drop down into this dark, dank shaft and then start looking for a way out. Some people get paid to do that: They’re called miners. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

 GO FAVELA RISINGFavela Rising opens with this onscreen quote: “Between the years 1987 and 2001, 467 minors were killed in Israel and Palestine combined. During that same time, 3,937 minors were murdered in one city in Brazil.” Centered on the life of Anderson Sa, drug dealer turned musician and community activist, directors Matt Mochary and Jeff Zimablist’s film echoes works like Bus 174 and City of God, illuminating the Brazilian slum (a.k.a. favela) culture of poverty and dysfunction that has sprung up from decades of government neglect and police corruption. Filled with gory footage and talking heads from all sides of the law, Rising is familiar material that is often funneled — unnecessarily — through emotionally manipulative editing and pacing that draw out real-life tension or dramatic moments, when the material is inherently fascinating, horrifying and uplifting. But such missteps can’t blunt the power of Favela, which is elevated by fantastic performance footage of Sa and his young protégés singing, dancing and rhythmically banging on cans, plastic bottles or anything else that can be fashioned into a drum — and a cultural revolution. (Regent Showcase) (Ernest Hardy)

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