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Including this week's pick, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny

Wednesday, Nov 22 2006
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BROKEN SKY If you’ve ever observed a couple in public staring impassively at one another and wondered what the story was behind their gaze, you might be the ideal audience for writer-director Julián Hernández’s meditative, almost silent romantic drama. The thin plot concerns two university students, Gerardo (Miguel Ángel Hoppe) and Jonás (Fernando Arroyo), who share an instant sexual attraction and quickly become madly infatuated with one another as only the young can. Although we can safely guess that their love will disintegrate as quickly as it blossomed, Hernández doesn’t display any wised-up cynicism toward his characters. In fact, he audaciously honors their doomed affair as the stuff of grand tragedy. Decorating the movie’s corners with Arturo Villela’s mournful score, Hernández shoots most of Broken Sky without dialogue, and the result is a film dripping with melodrama and pretension. For a while, the stylistic choices work: Without judgment, Hernández and his actors superbly capture what your first adult romantic relationship feels like — how its thick dreamstate blocks out the world around it, cultivating emotional instability, irrationality and the inherent mystery of trying to understand the person you’re sleeping with. But at 140 minutes, Broken Sky’s experimental novelty can only hold you for so long. Hernández purposely leaves his characters nondescript so as to universalize their situation, but it’s hard to swoon over these lovebirds when we have no hint of their inner lives. All in all, a striking, memorable disappointment — not unlike so many first loves. (Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)

 CAUTIVA Cautiva belongs to that category of historical and political films that try to both illuminate the bloody dictatorships that have dotted the Latin American landscape and honor the lives shattered by their brutality. The setting here is Argentina, and the focus is on teenage Christina (Barbara Lombardo), who is pulled out of class one day and informed that the people she knows as her parents are not, and that she’s actually the daughter of two “disappeared” college students. From that point, writer-director Gaston Biraben methodically unravels the comfortable life woven around Christina while gently pushing forth an agenda fueled by a muted outrage — he wants to make clear that the horrors inflicted in the past do not tidily disappear once dictators and their inhumane policies and practices are abolished. While Christina and the viewer grapple with the girl’s “adoptive” parents’ dicey recollections of the past, we also share her ambivalence about the biological family that so desperately claims her. At what cost moral justice? Should she suffer the collapse of the only life she’s ever known so that the balance sheet is corrected? Neither Biraben’s script nor his direction leave room for doubt as to how he feels about the nightmarish past, but he’s smart enough to know that even justified outrage sometimes has to be tempered with the complexities of human intentions and realities. The power of this intelligent, moving film lies precisely in his diving headfirst into those same complexities. (Music Hall; One Colorado) (Ernest Hardy)

DECK THE HALLS There is something about the holiday season that brings lazy filmmakers to pitch meetings with Frank Capra knockoffs clutched in their sweaty paws. ’Tis Noel in Massachusetts: Fake snow glistens hokily on every patch of, er, Vancouver ground while wholesome suburban couples like Steve and Kelly Finch (Matthew Broderick and Kristin Davis) lie chastely strapped to their marital bed, planning for the nth time the world’s most anally traditional family Christmas with their eye-rolling offspring. Enter vulgarian new neighbor Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito), a capable but discontented car salesman equipped with D-cupped wife (Kristin Chenoweth), twin blond bimbettes with eyes only for hot guys, and big dreams of Xmas house lights so bright, they’ll be seen from outer space. Male competitiveness surges hither and yon as tight-assed Steve and brassy Buddy try to outdo one another, watched in growing horror by their sensible families, quietly bonding in the background. Several hundred sight gags later, mounted with more enthusiasm than skill by director John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2) — burly cop in bra and thong, vomiting camel, sleigh run amok, that sort of thing — Buddy’s bedecked house is a high-tech gingerbread nightmare gone electronically hog-wild, while Steve stews helplessly in the juice of his own hubris until both see the error of their adolescent ways. It goes without saying that a Wonderful Life lurks in the wings, complete with freshly insightful people who need people, not glory. But what can be said of a movie whose idea of heartwarming is a host of cell phones twinkling in the night sky in lieu of fairy lights? And though DeVito and Chenoweth bring a rough plebeian charm to the proceedings that almost saves this dreary stretched-out sitcom, it’s nothing short of tragic to see the great Ferris Bueller relegated to grimacing straight man. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)

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