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Film Reviews: Disturbia, Perfect Stranger and More 

Also Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Thetaers, The Ritchie Boys and this week's pick, Red Road

Wednesday, Apr 11 2007
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ADAM’S APPLES The prolific Danish screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, After the Wedding) wrote and directed this noxious, would-be black comedy about a surly neo-Nazi (Ulrich Thomsen) sentenced to community service work under the watchful eye of the local vicar (Mads Mikkelsen) in a seemingly idyllic country village. The tip-off here is the vicar’s unflappably cheery demeanor. Even when the Nazi pummels him within an inch of his life, he brushes himself off as if nothing ever happened — which, we soon learn, stems from his belief that he’s locked in a battle of wills with the Devil himself. And that struggle is itself a mask for a personal history filled with incest, disability and suicide — all of which Jensen expects us to find funny, or at least so tragic that we have no escape but to laugh. Touches of magical realism abound (a Bible keeps flipping open to the Book of Job; the tree bearing the titular fruit is besieged by pestilence; a bullet to the head proves to be a cure for brain cancer); the pious and the heretical are mocked with equal vigor, and everyone lives happily ever after. Some will see this as a movie about how we’re all God’s children. I saw only the misanthropic fulminations of Jensen’s runaway ego. (Music Hall; One Colorado) (Scott Foundas)


 AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE COLON MOVIE FILM FOR THEATERS The breakout stars of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup get the (barely) big-screen treatment in this suitably el cheapo 80-minute quickie that finds our cholesterol-heavy 2-D heroes — for the uninitiated, imagine a slacker-stoner version of McDonald’s Fry Guy, Grimace and Hamburglar — battling to save the world from a demonic piece of exercise equipment called the Insanoflex. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of soda, it probably isn’t, and even Aqua Teen aficionados may find that, like fast-food itself, the demented brainchildren of co-creators Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis work best when consumed in small portions. For all its infectious, go-for-broke wackiness (where else are you going to see two soldiers of the Mooninite army attempt to commit grand theft coffee table?), ATHFCMFFT never quite surpasses its opening sequence — a faux movie-theater policy trailer in which a band of singing and dancing concession-stand items run up against their snarling punk doppelgängers, who proceed to tell us (in song) what will happen if we dare to talk, crinkle candy wrappers or otherwise interfere with the feature presentation. Me, I’m still trembling at the thought of being cut with a linoleum knife. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)


DISTURBIA Otherwise known as a remake of Rear Window, even if the credits don’t admit as much, Disturbia does have one thing going for it: Shia LaBeouf, who plays Kale Brecht, a high-school goof who, during the movie’s opening minutes, watches his dad get killed in a gruesome traffic accident on their way home from a blissful fly-fishing trip. The incident renders Kale bitter, sullen, withdrawn, until one day he pops off in class and winds up in home detention during, naturally, summer break. Kale, electronically tethered to police HQ, can’t leave the confines of his yard, so he and his best friend Ronnie hide behind upstairs drapery to spy on the neighborhood: the preteen porn junkies who leave flaming bags of dog shit on doorsteps, the new Dream Girl Next Door (Sarah Roemer as Ashley), the creepy dude (David Morse, duh) with the dented Mustang just like the one driven by a suspected murderer. It’s only a matter of time before Ashley becomes Nancy Drew to Kale and Ronnie’s horndog Hardy Boys. At least, Disturbia is a marked improvement for the man who made it: D.J. Caruso, previously responsible for such inexplicable dreck as The Salton Sea and Two for the Money. His latest is obvious, not at all surprising, and totally functional, which is intended as a sincere compliment. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)


EXTERMINATING ANGELS As French-film devotees are well aware, writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau was found guilty in 2005 of sexually harassing a pair of young actresses who had been persuaded to masturbate while auditioning for parts in Secret Things, his film about female pleasure and transgressing taboos. The filmmaker did receive a stiff fine, but a one-year prison sentence was suspended and the bulk of charges against him were dropped — in other words, he got off. Around the same time, Brisseau was putting the finishing touches, so to speak, on Exterminating Angels, in which a writer-director is accused of... uh, sexually harassing a pair of young actresses who had been persuaded to masturbate while auditioning for parts in his film about “female pleasure and transgressing taboos.” Risible material in more ways than one (and hilarious from the get-go), the film begins by suggesting that its emotionally abusive filmmaker (Frédéric van den Driessche) was the victim of sexual entrapment — snared by two extremely hot young apparitions in tight black tank tops. Other babes soon head in rapid succession to the auteur’s casting couch, confessing their erotic secrets and making him uncomfortably hot, with worse to follow. Brisseau may imagine himself an emasculated martyr for the cause of sexual liberation in le cinéma, but somehow the women in his distinctly male fantasy have the last laugh. (Playhouse 7; Sunset 5) (Rob Nelson)


HAIR HIGH In Hair High (which has been on the festival circuit for a few years now), Rod (the towering jock) and Cherie (the self-possessed beauty) rule their high school with the impenetrable air of royalty. Their world is fractured when new kid Spud, a smart-ass geek with a spine and some balls, shows up. His hate-at-first-sight meeting with Cherie blossoms into something else altogether, and the mismatched lovers’ furtive love affair is met with Rod’s murderous rage, resulting in a pair of bug-covered zombies rising from the dead to claim their prom-night due. Famed animator Bill Plympton’s legendarily skewed aesthetic and worldview are in top form here, bringing life to a script that plays like Carrie on a wicked acid trip. Proof of the depth of Plympton’s talent (not that proof is needed) is in two especially effective, not-for-the-squeamish scenes. In one, the fingernail is popped off a guy with a switchblade, and the moment is so teeth-grindingly effective that it couldn’t be more real were the characters flesh and blood. In another, space worms crawl through the toenail of a woman, slithering up her body and under her skin as they make their way to her brain. It’s gross-out fare of the highest caliber. (Sunset 5) (Ernest Hardy)


LONELY HEARTS Slipped into release with ominous lack of fanfare, this star-studded noir thriller is a halfhearted attempt to recast The Honeymoon Killers and Deep Crimson, both of which were based on the 1940s case of a couple who preyed on and murdered lonely women. Lonely Hearts is more humdrum than terrible, in large measure because writer-director Todd Robinson drains the focus away from the killer couple ­— rendered with panache and a self-amused flourish by Salma Hayek and Jared Leto — to Elmer C. Robinson, the damaged but dull policeman on their trail (played in a sepulchral monotone by a jowly John Travolta) and his more worldly sidekick (James Gandolfini). Todd Robinson is the grandson of the real-life Elmer, which may be why the movie, shot in trite period sepia and littered with the usual blood-red fingernails, never fully commits to the heartlessness of the genre as fully as Arthur Penn did in Bonnie and Clyde. Robinson insists on saddling his prize psycho and her pursuer with Motives, and evil invariably loses its pizzazz when it’s explained away. Neither funny nor persuasively tragic, Lonely Hearts ends up merely unpleasant in its fixation on the hydraulics of orgasms and electric chairs. (Selected theaters) (Ella Taylor)


PATHFINDER From beheading babies to gouging eyeballs, director Marcus Nispel continues in Pathfinder the gory/lame tradition he began with his Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Based very loosely on the 1987 Norwegian Viking drama of the same name, Pathfinder follows a Viking child — the sole survivor of the original Norse journey to the new world — who has been adopted by Native Americans and renamed Ghost. Fifteen years later, a second Viking ship arrives in America, and the hairy, fur-clad warriors are out for revenge. Killing indiscriminately with faces smeared in war paint, the one-dimensional Vikings are pure evil, while the Native Americans are pure benevolence. (Nispel loves his martyr imagery, even hanging the dead natives on crosses.) It’s immediately clear that Ghost will heroically save his adoptive brethren and the day, leaving the repetitive and poorly lit battle scenes without tension. There is one redeeming skirmish — the climactic fight involving a snowy cliff and an elaborate pulley system — but from the guy who’s directed videos for Cher, Amy Grant, Billy Joel, and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony? We expected more. (Citywide) (Jessica Grose)


PERFECT STRANGER When the big, bad powers that be fuck her over on her exposé of an intern-fucking U.S. senator, a star investigative reporter (Halle Berry) for a fictive New York City daily says “Fuck you” to the world of print journalism — until, that is, her old childhood friend (Nicki Aycox) washes up dead in the Hudson. So Berry sets out to put the screws to the smarmy ad exec (Bruce Willis) who was fucking the dead woman behind his wife’s back. Pulling her best Lois Lane, she goes undercover in Willis’ glittering glass-and-steel office and, with a little IT help from her own Jimmy Olsen (Giovanni Ribisi), starts giving the boss virtual cock teases under the IM handle “Rocketgirl.” Directed with palpable fatigue by James Foley (who once made good movies — After Dark, My Sweet; At Close Range) from a script by novelist Todd Komarnicki, Perfect Stranger derives some novelty value from its colorblind casting and from being the most ludicrously silly Hollywood fuck-fest since the Willis-starring Color of Night (minus that movie’s comic self-awareness). But as a thriller, it’s so by-the-numbers that it’s hardly worth keeping count. By the end, so much damning evidence has been amassed against nearly all the main characters that the final revelation feels like the one that merely tested the best. Perhaps, Clue-style, they should have included them all. It certainly would have lent new meaning to the expression “Colonel Mustard did it in the pantry.” (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)


PICK RED ROAD Like all voyeurs, Jackie (Kate Dickie), a gaunt young woman encased in the chill fog of the horribly lonely, lacks a life to call her own outside of her job manning a police CCTV camera in Glasgow’s dead-end inner city. At once a helper and a detached observer, she lives through the small dramas that unfold on her screens. Like her protagonist, writer-director Andrea Arnold plays the source of Jackie’s grief close to her chest, focusing on the character’s growing obsession with a shifty-looking man (Tony Curran) whom she tracks through his sordid days and nights on a graffiti-scarred housing project. No one does poetic British miserabilism with more remorseless hyperrealism than the Scots, and Arnold, who amassed a raft of reputable awards for her 2003 short film Wasp, directs with a precociously sure touch and a taste for raw, graphic sexuality that’s rare in a woman director, yet feels organic to the film’s paranoid, loveless milieu. As cat stalks mouse and vice versa, it becomes less and less clear whose heart is in greater need of softening. If the movie is marred by pat uplift at the end, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is not just a feature debut but the first in a Lars von Trier–inspired trilogy in which three directors embellish on the same cast of pre-assigned characters. The measure of Red Road is that it leaves us hungry for what comes next. (Nuart) (Ella Taylor)


REDLINE The makers of this self-indulgent autopalooza take a Ferrari engine, Porsche speed, Mercedes horsepower, and a Shelby Mustang chassis and somehow combine them into a Yugo. But for the 95 minutes of this awesomely terrible gearhead orgy, it’s 1978 and you’re at a Southern California drive-in at the bottom of a triple bill of The Gumball Rally, the original Gone in 60 Seconds and... this. The candy-colored baby of a mortgage mogul turned producer named Daniel Sadek — who not only appears onscreen but has one character stop to take his call — Redline is a showcase for Sadek’s personal car collection as it pits a busty racer (Nadia Bjorlin) and a returning soldier (Nathan Phillips) against the soldier’s mob-tied vegan uncle (Angus Macfadyen, we hardly knew ye). There’s not a single frame that fans of the craptacular will regret — not Bjorlin’s Sadek-penned come-on song (“I wanna be your car tonight / So you can grip me like a steering wheeeel....”), not the priceless character introductions (“Carlo, the war hero...he fights for what he believes in!”), not the evident deployment of a cinematic process called Hooter-Vision that removes the top three buttons of every woman’s blouse. But the cars and stunt work are real, and so is the rather endearing retro cheesiness. This is the movie that really belongs with Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)


THE RITCHIE BOYS The horror of war gets gently upstaged by the wit and wisdom of the vets interviewed in this solid WWII doc. The Ritchie Boys were mostly refugees of Nazism who came to America filled with rage at the rape of Europe and ready to take up arms against Hitler. Many were artists or intellectuals, not exactly natural fighters, but still desperate help liberate their homelands. Listening to these men reminisce about their experiences at Camp Ritchie, where they were trained as interrogators of POWs, is an education. These are men who know of what they speak; they’re also eloquent, erudite, and funny as hell. Sitting in on a car ride with two of the Ritchie Boys feels like wandering backstage at a Friars Club roast. Of course, war is serious business, and these soldiers know that better than anyone. If civilians could smell the stench of war for just a second, says one, they’d become pacifists. The film happily sticks to its regal subjects, avoiding speculation about whether military interrogations aren’t quite what they used to be. (Grande 4-Plex) (Drew Tillman)


SLOW BURN Star Trek fans have been abuzz with talk about Jolene Blalock’s sex scenes in Slow Burn— does Enterprise’s Vulcan hottie finally lower more than just the deflector shield? Indeed, you do get to see T’Pol’s T’itties, but only for a second or two; hardly worth the price of admission, unless you also have an affinity for low-budget crime flicks that want to be The Usual Suspects when they grow up. Blalock is cast rather unconvincingly as African-American (!) assistant district attorney Nora Timmer, who claims to have shot a would-be rapist (Mekhi Phifer) in self-defense. Her D.A. boyfriend Ford (Ray Liotta) initially believes her, but then a stranger (LL Cool J) walks into the police station with a different story — one in which Nora courted her “rapist” for weeks in an attempt to seduce him into testifying against a mysterious crimelord that no-one has ever seen. Yep, it’s Keyser Soze time, and writer-director Wayne Beach (screenwriter of The Art of War and Murder at 1600) figures if you liked Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s big climactic reversal, you’ll love four of them in a row! It’s much more likely, however, that you’ll have stopped paying attention by then. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)


UNCONSCIOUS (INCONSCIENTES) Alma (Bad Education’s Leonor Watling) is eight and a half months pregnant and just about the most modern-minded woman in 1913 Barcelona, when one afternoon her psychiatrist husband — a fervent, newly minted devotee of Freud’s still-revolutionary theories — walks out on her with the slenderest of explanations. He leaves behind him one clue, a manuscript about hysteria and female sexuality in four women patients: a persecuted actress, a would-be husband-killer, a woman in the throes of a profound crisis of sexual identity, and another possessed of a terrible secret about her past. No prizes for guessing that sooner or later this foursome will be intricately linked with each other, given that Unconscious comes from writer-director Joaquin Oristrell, the deft farceur who wrote the gay-merry-go-round comedy Reinas (Queens). Alma teams up with her excruciatingly uptight brother-in-law, Salvador (Miami Vice’s Luis Tosar), also a shrink, to chart the contours of a mystery that includes silent-movie porn stars, an illiterate, deaf-mute courtesan with “the most accommodating mouth in the city,” Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Freud himself, mixed-up parentage, transvestism, and incest, incest, everywhere. Laboring in the wide shadow of Almodóvar and lacking much in the way of visual distinction, Unconscious compensates with its cast’s full-tilt commitment to rip-snorting farce, slamming doors, switched identities and sexual anarchy, along with madcap dialogue and unforgettable lines like “Ridiculous! How can a woman have penis envy?!” (Regent Showcase) (John Patterson)


YEAR OF THE DOG  See film feature (Ella Taylor) (Showtimes)


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