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Film Reviews 

Including this week's pick My Country, My Country

Wednesday, Sep 13 2006
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THE BLACK DAHLIA See film feature. (Citywide)

CONFETTI 
See film feature.


THE COVENANT
Four descendants (Steven Strait, Taylor Kitscj, Toby Hemingway and Chace Crawford) from the original 1692 Ipswich colony of Massachusetts are endowed with an unexplained power with unclear parameters (i.e., they have the ability to do anything, except for when they don’t). But wait... there were actually five founding families of Ipswich, and now the fifth descendant (Sebastian Stan) is back, and he’s pissed, because, well, the movie kinda needs a villain and he’ll do. The idiocy and sheer laziness of the whole concept ought to be the sort of thing director Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea) could make into glorious cinematic cheese, and occasionally he cuts loose with a swarm of CGI spiders or a final battle that resembles nothing more than a live-action game of Street Fighter II. But he’s hamstrung by the PG-13 rating and the budget, and way too much time wasted on scenes of the generic-looking cast mumbling in monotone under blue lights. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)


GO EVERYONE’S HERO Tactfully credited to Christopher Reeve, this old-fashioned tale of the meek inheriting the Earth, or at any rate the outfield, was actually put together after Reeve’s death by animators Daniel St. Pierre and Colin Brady, from a story that IDT Entertainment chairman Howard Jonas wrote for his children. But you can see what Reeve, who had more reason than most to grin and bear it, saw in this Depression-era saga of Yankee Irving, a skinny little baseball fan (voiced by Jake T. Austin) riding the rails around America to return Babe Ruth’s lost bat and, in the process, recover his own father’s job minding the pitch at Yankee Stadium. The boy’s Midwestern adventures, in which he gets help from some cheerful bums and spends quality time with the Negro Leagues, are fairly pro forma, and the message — plug away, be ye ever so humble, and glory will surely follow — is all but exhausted in animated children’s movies. Still, what a relief that the banter emanates not from farmyard animals, but from the bickering mouths of a disillusioned foul ball (Rob Reiner) and a Southern-belle bat (Whoopi Goldberg). The movie’s antique Rockwellian look is its greatest pleasure. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)


GO EXPIRATION DATE Director Rick Stevenson’s black/romantic comedy is built around Charlie Silver Cloud (Robert Guthrie), a family patriarch who carries an uncanny curse: Like his father and grandfather before him, on his 25th birthday, he will die beneath the muddy wheels of a milk truck. Set in Stevenson’s hometown of Seattle, Expiration Date examines Charlie’s attempts to wrap up loose ends in his final days, during which things become complicated by Bessie (Sascha Knopf), the loudmouth, “free spirit” love interest Charlie meets while bargaining for his casket. Under a plethora of uncomfortable but humorous Wes Anderson–style vignettes that blend internalized, condensed, quirky, psychosomatic experience with flashes of therapeutic revelation lies a screenplay as vibrant with original comedy as it is with local color. Stevenson’s use of recognizable Seattle locales — the Space Needle, Post Alley, the Fremont Troll, Bop Street Records and the Alibi Room coffeehouse (which Stevenson co-owns) — grounds the otherwise ludicrous storyline and provides pasture for a personable congregation of secondary characters: the Vietnam vet, the Hendrix buff, the ex-girlfriend and, yes, the jittery, balding, beer-belly coffee addict, all of them wrangled into the narrative rather than relegated to the sidelines. (Westside Pavilion) (Gavin Williamson)


GRIDIRON GANG Contrary to conventional wisdom, the words “based on a true story” do not absolve a movie of the need to be compelling and believable on its own terms. I’m not saying I doubt that a corrections officer named Sean Porter (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) really did whip a motley crew of self-defeatist youth offenders at a SoCal juvenile detention camp into a lean and mean football squad, or that Porter convinced prison and school officials to let him take his team on the road for a full-card high school season, or that participants in Porter’s program have gone on to have a dramatically lower-than-average repeat-offender rate. I’d just wager that, in reality, it was all a bit messier and more complicated, and perhaps a smidgen less life-affirming than you’d deduce from this Hollywood dramatization of Porter’s story. Directed in hyperkinetic music-video style by Phil Joanou and smothered in a faux-rousing musical score (by composer Trevor Rabin) that’s spread on thicker than a quarterback’s greasepaint, Gridiron Gang is so relentlessly uplifting that you can’t turn anywhere without encountering a truce between rival gang members, a reunion of estranged parents and children or some miraculous, two-seconds-left-on-the-clock, come-from-behind victory. In a true-life sports tale like the recent Invincible, you buy into all the inspirational clichés because the characters have inner lives and the movie is about something bigger; here, you keep hoping for something bad to happen to somebody just for the sake of balance. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)


GO THE GROUND TRUTH Among the many virtues of Patricia Foulkrod’s immensely moving documentary about veterans of the Iraq war is the measure it takes of how far we have come since Vietnam in sympathy for American soldiers who serve abroad. The men and women she interviews are a self-selected group — mostly National Guard members and those who signed up for the Marine Corps — who began as patriots and ended up, if they had the strength, as activists against the war. Using their commentary as background, Foulkrod takes us through the entire process, from the lavish promises of recruitment (one enlistee told recruiting officers he had seen Top Gun and was dying to “blow shit up”) through the feral brutalities of basic training, and on to the killing fields of a war nobody told them would be conducted primarily against civilians. A war waged with superior technology ensures both a higher survival rate and many more physical and psychological disabilities, and both the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs emerge as hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the array of problems faced by returning soldiers. Had Foulkrod made room for testimony from vets who came back from duty still convinced they were fighting a just war, we might be even more appalled. For as one of her subjects tells her, “If you’re a good soldier, you’ll be a bad civilian.” (Nuart) (Ella Taylor) See last week's article on Patricia Foulkrod here.


HAVEN As a director, newcomer Frank E. Flowers shows a flair for visuals and characters, but as a writer, he needs work. The Tarantinoesque nonlinear structure he employs would be risky even in Quentin’s hands, and is downright self-sabotaging here. After setting up a mixture of corporate intrigue and family drama, with a money launderer (Bill Paxton) and his alienated daughter (Agnes Bruckner) on the run from the feds in the Cayman Islands, Flowers abruptly stops that story, and doesn’t get back to it for almost an hour. Suddenly, we’re focused on lovelorn fisherman’s son Orlando Bloom and his West Side Story–like romantic troubles. By the time that storyline finally ties back to the original — and even then only tangentially — it’s hard to care about the previous characters. Stephen Dillane steals a few scenes as an amusingly corrupt lawyer, but Flowers focuses instead on Bloom and his shape-shifting burn makeup. (Selected theaters) (Luke Y. Thompson)


I TRUST YOU TO KILL ME Hoping to whip up interest in their debut record, the little-known group Rocco DeLuca and the Burden embarked on a quickie small-club tour through Europe while being filmed by director Manu Boyer. What, you may ask yourself, does any of this have to do with Kiefer Sutherland? Not enough, unfortunately. I Trust You is a rather standard out-on-the-road rock doc except for one unique and under-explored twist: The 24 star, after signing the band to his label, impulsively decided to accompany them on this barnstorming adventure as their tour manager. Pretty early on, we recognize that while the Burden have some talent, neither they nor their moody front man are particularly riveting filmic subjects. Perhaps sensing this, Boyer turns I Trust You into a compare/contrast study between DeLuca’s tortured grump and Sutherland’s Zen-like dude. It’s no contest. Sutherland wins, not just because he’s famous but because of his willingness to be totally open around the camera, whether that means diving into a hotel-lobby Christmas tree or discussing his relationship with his father, Donald. Between routine concert footage and montages of the band packing their equipment, Boyer offers a brief, intimate window into Sutherland, who, at 39, comes across as unpretentious and thoughtful without ever making it seem like he’s just acting. I Trust You pretends to be a look at a group’s hopeful rise to stardom, but the film instead plays like a master class on how to wear your celebrity well. (Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)


THE LAST KISS  See film feature.


{mosimage} PICK GO MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY After meeting Dr. Riyadh at Abu Ghraib prison, where he was monitoring the health of detainees, filmmaker Laura Poitras spent eight months tagging along with the physician, father of six and Sunni candidate in the 2005 elections for the new Iraqi parliament. Along the way, he becomes a casualty of the fundamental contradictions that confound attempts to impose democracy from without. The taciturn, unsmiling but humane doctor — whom we see trying to field his candidacy while caring for the ballooning number of patients who show up in his surgery in physical or mental distress — is as passionate an advocate of democratic process as he is a vehement opponent of the occupation. Riyadh can’t win either way, and the worst of it is that we see him not embittered so much as gradually ground down by the exigencies of living in a cowboy world where relatives are stolen overnight for ransom, potential voters find themselves intimidated by insurgents, and movement is limited by American security details. In this context, it’s amazing that 58 percent of Iraqis did show up to vote, but not at all surprising that the disillusioned doctor, exactly the kind of politician Iraq needs, ends up making plans to leave the country. Perhaps the most telling image in this remarkable movie is that of a relative intently swatting flies in Riyadh’s house, while fighting rages outside. (Music Hall) (Ella Taylor)


GO THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON  See film feature.
click to enlarge Is there a doctor in the house?: Riyadh outside the Abu Ghraib gates (Photo by Paul Cobaugh)
  • Is there a doctor in the house?: Riyadh outside the Abu Ghraib gates (Photo by Paul Cobaugh)

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