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Film Reviews 

Including this week's picks, Jackass Number Two and The Science of Sleep

Wednesday, Sep 20 2006

AL FRANKEN: GOD SPOKE Early on in the documentary Al Franken: God Spoke, a Harvard undergrad asks the visiting Franken if he claims that there’s no such thing as left-wing propaganda. She’s the type of smug little wart everyone who goes to college encounters, playing at an ideological version of Stump the Band. Franken answers that it’s his job to point out and ridicule the lies spouted by the right wing. And when he calmly and devastatingly demonstrates the fallacy in Brit Hume’s claim that an American soldier in Iraq has the same chance of being killed as an average California citizen, or when he annotates the factual sleight of hand in Zell Miller’s claims of John Kerry being anti-defense, Franken does just what he claims. Throughout God Spoke, Franken comes off as passionate and funny, with an impressive ability to muster facts and an absence of smugness. His brand of liberalism, grounded in his middle-class Midwestern upbringing, seems just the sort that could renew liberalism’s once wide appeal. But that student’s smart-ass question is a fair one, and it’s just the one that God Spoke avoids as it follows Franken from the shaky inauguration of the Air America radio network to his fairly recent announcement that he’s thinking of moving back to Minnesota and running against Republican Senator Norm Coleman. Directed by Nick Doob and Chris Hegedus and executive-produced by D.A. Pennebaker, the movie, with its dedication to cinéma vérité, is one more example that the technique is useless when examining questions of politics or history. Existing in the moment without inquiry or challenge, cinéma vérité fosters exactly the sort of refusal to think beyond the immediate that this film criticizes in right-wing dittoheads. Franken seems like too much of a good guy to be long satisfied with preaching to the choir on Air America. Having spent time in the back of cabs with their radios tuned to both Rush Limbaugh and Randi Rhodes, I can say that it doesn’t matter what the loudmouth haranguing you believes. Neither political discourse nor politics itself can withstand that sort of intellectual degradation and survive. (Sunset 5; Playhouse 7) (Charles Taylor)ALL THE KING'S MEN See film feature  (Citywide)AURORA BOREALIS Because they apparently couldn’t wait until the next Ed Burns movie, first-time feature director James C.E. Burke and screenwriter Brent Boyd have conspired to give us their own cinematic paean to the comforts of home and the virtues of hanging out with “the guys” instead of going out into the world and making something of your life. In a nicely measured performance, Dawson’s Creek heartthrob Joshua Jackson plays the rudderless Duncan, who works as a handyman in a Minnesota apartment building and falls for the free-spirited nurse (sexy-kooky Juliette Lewis) who tends to his Parkinson’s-afflicted grandfather (scenery-inhaling Donald Sutherland). The legacy of a dead father looms large, thickly accented Midwesterners offer pearls of country wisdom that usually begin with “In my day...,” and the question of whether Duncan will follow his lady love out to the California coast fails to generate edge-of-your-seat suspense. Aurora Borealis — yes, that title eventually comes home to roost — doesn’t offend in any way, but it’s so self-consciously quaint, so unwaveringly “nice,” that you nearly wish it did. (Regent Showcase; Royal; One Colorado; Town Center 5) (Scott Foundas)

DARSHAN: THE EMBRACE The spiritual equivalent of those lightweight exotic-travel films popular at Disneyland and IMAX theaters, Darshan blandly introduces the Western world to Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, better known as Amma, a prominent Hindu guru famous for her charitable work, pacifist teachings and public appearances — which conclude with hugs for each of her adoring disciples. Director Jan Kounen’s documentary weaves an impressionistic, sometimes hypnotic spell, fluttering between Amma’s religious gatherings, impassioned testimonials from followers, and leisurely glides across India’s scenic beauty and harsh poverty. Though the film’s languid style does its best to mimic Amma’s placid, mystical demeanor, Darshan fails as an examination into the woman’s inner life — the few snippets of her on-camera interview are hardly illuminating. Intellectually, Kounen’s juxtaposition of scenes of Amma’s compassionate behavior and the disturbing images of Indian squalor (maggots devouring dead livestock) underscores the economic desperation of the flocks to which this spiritual shepherd offers strength and comfort. But by so blindly embracing Amma, Darshan treats her divinity as a given, and although Kounen includes long segments from her spiritual gatherings within the film, the footage never gives us a glimpse into why more than 25 million people across the globe have sought out “the hugging saint.” Unless you’re already a true believer, Amma comes across in Darshan as a perfect angel, a frustrating enigma and a rather dull cinematic subject. (Monica 4-Plex; Regency Academy) (Tim Grierson)

FEAST Feast isn’t the least bit artful, but it is gleefully gruesome, which may be all one can ask of a no-budget monster movie. As the film opens, a freaked-out stranger bursts into an isolated desert tavern to warn the dozen or so people inside that man-eating creatures, ones that may be from another planet, are heading their way. Viewers of the reality series Project Greenlight — that’s the one where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck choose a first-time director to film the screenplay of a novice writer — know that Feast is the long-shelved byproduct of the show’s final season, and that its endearingly timid director of choice, John Gulager, along with his harried crew, couldn’t decide what form their onscreen demons should take. That probably explains why they appear, at various points in the movie, to be horny gremlins, or the wayward progeny of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. They’re vicious, though, and while most of the action sequences are too dark and frenzied to track, Gulager and screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton have come up with some wittily nasty moments, such as the yanked-out-eyeball scene, and a creature-vs.-pissed-off-mom showdown that’s gooey and gross. They should premiere this movie at a Midwest drive-in. (Playhouse 7; Sunset 5) (Chuck Wilson)

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