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Film Reviews: Interview, My Best Friend and More 

Also Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox, Tekkonkinkreet

Wednesday, Jul 11 2007
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GO  CAPTIVITY Captivity's credits bill it as "a Russian-American coproduction" and it damn near warms the cockles of one's heart to see that the two countries that nearly brought us nuclear war can come together to make a movie about torturing a supermodel (Elisha Cuthbert). Ah, capitalism. Surprising it took Lionsgate this long to do a decent rip-off of their Saw cash cow, but at least they took the time to do it right. Grungy warehouse rigged with ridiculously elaborate electronics, cameras, and traps? Check. Grotesque torture devices and "challenges" right out of a very special snuff edition of Fear Factor? Definitely. Talented character actor (Pruitt Taylor Vince, in this case) cloaked in a black robe and a hidden agenda? You know it. Sure, there's no character development to speak of, and one or two plot points make no sense at all, but director Roland Joffé creates a visually interesting and aurally unsettling vibe, and the story from B-movie maestro Larry Cohen keeps it simple: Girl needs to escape, but bad shit won't stop happening. Screw the culture cops who freaked out over Captivity's graphic poster and always cry "torture porn" – this is a gleefully nasty piece of red meat for horror hounds that delivers as promised. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

GO  DR. BRONNER’S MAGIC SOAPBOX For that segment of America currently worshipping at the altar of quirkiness (high priest: Napoleon Dynamite), Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox is your documentary. It tells the tale of sweet, mad Dr. Emanuel Bronner, a seventh-generation German-Jewish soap maker, who, after escaping the Nazis as a young man (his father and mother would die in Buchenwald), moved to America, where he started a soap-making factory, anointed himself a “rabbi” and developed a personal philosophy based around the motto “ALL-ONE-FAITH in ONE-GOD-STATE.” Eventually institutionalized in what he referred to as a concentration camp (really an insane asylum in Illinois), Bronner escaped once again and invented the “magic” product that would change his family’s life: a gentle, peppermint-infused Castile soap. Although the segments featuring Bronner’s son, Ralph, veer uncomfortably toward hagiography, first-time director Sara Lamm balances out the love fest by exploring the dark side of being a soap-hawking prophet and the toll that ALL-ONE-FAITH took on Bronner’s family. (Music Hall) (Julia Wallace)

GHOSTS OF CITE SOLEIL Asger Leth’s documentary explores the Port-au-Prince slum Cité Soleil, identified by a UN agency as the “most dangerous place on earth.” It’s a prismatic, jagged, none too coherent travelogue — a portrait of Haiti’s post-Aristide political chaos centered on the rivalry between two gang leaders or “ghosts”: the charismatic 2pac (also a rap artist) and his aggrieved brother, Bily. The two supported Aristide, but although both eventually turned against the beleaguered president, they are equally threatened by the rival criminal gangs that deposed Aristide in 2004. Leth allows the two men to speak directly to his camera, mainly in English. Their threats and boasts are made against a roiling backdrop of street demonstrations, power cuts and voodoo rituals. This choppy, often inexplicable, series of incidents finally ignites, as Port-au-Prince becomes a total free-fire zone. (Sunset 5) (J. Hoberman)

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GO HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX  See film feature GO  INTERVIEW Adapted from a 2003 film by the slain Dutch provocateur Theo van Gogh, Steve Buscemi’s second feature as both director and star takes about 20 minutes to restrict the world to a single room, but once it arrives, the action seems to be held there by the pull of a cold sun. Buscemi plays a shabby ex–war correspondent demoted to doing a puff piece on a prime-time soap starlet (Sienna Miller). He sizes her up as a vacant Hilton, she coolly reads his career slide; obscenities are exchanged; interviewer and interviewee part early and gladly — only to be reunited by a car crash when Katya’s killer smile distracts Pierre’s cabby. They retreat to her loft, and a scorched-earth game of drinking, seduction, “truth telling” and score settling begins, with one winner standing at night’s end. Interview’s aggressive theatricality makes its faults almost inseparable (or indistinguishable) from its virtues: The blocky movements and arch dialogue shore up the artifice of two practiced liars gunning for supremacy. But Buscemi and Miller rip into each other with vigor, and the movie winds toward a closing nut-shot of Mametesque nastiness. (The Landmark; Sunset 5; Playhouse 7) (Jim Ridley)

GO LADY CHATTERLEY See film feature

LIGHTS IN THE DUSK Lights in the Dusk derives scant excitement from its melodramatic plot, which satisfies a dismal, ineluctable formula with stultifying efficiency. Nor is it enlivened by the airless performances, which have been shorn of gesture, deprived of expressive language and flattened against an overall flatness of affect. No, this stunted little parable generates a glimmer of interest, in its oppressive way, from the tragicomic struggle of any expressive impulse to assert itself against the tyrannical mannerisms of Aki Kaurismäki. In other words, Finland’s reigning poet of deadpan minimalism has found no reason to alter the style of laconic, low-rent, beatnik miserabilism he perfected in the 1990s. Completing a trilogy on “loneliness” that includes Drifting Clouds (1996) and The Man Without a Past (2002), Lights maneuvers a taciturn security guard (Janne Hyytiäinen) into a cruel geometry of betrayal arranged by a Russian moll (Maria Järvenhelmi). Sadder yet, Kaurismäki has invited all of his pets (vintage cars, thrift-store production design, retro rock bands, glum proletariat eateries), all of which ought to be put down. (Nuart) (Nathan Lee)

GO  MY BEST FRIEND Light, airy and sweet, Patrice Leconte’s latest comedy swings his favorite premise — fruitful encounters between opposites — away from romance and into the wistful hunger for friendship in a careerist world. Daniel Auteuil slyly tweaks his easy geniality into a subtle form of heedlessness as François, an ambiguously successful antiques dealer who treats everyone around him with the same chilly dispassion he brings to his pursuit of beautiful objets d’art. When his business partner (Julie Gayet) challenges him to a pricey bet that he can’t come up with a true friend in 10 days, he finds himself stumped for buddies until he meets his opposite, Bruno (the adorable Dany Boon), a sociable cabdriver and collector of Panini stickers who gives François free tuition in how to be loyal and sympathique. The lesson backfires, and their rocky friendship is tested in an uproarious and tender climax on the set of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, where Bruno captures France’s heart just by being a nervous wreck. Leconte embraces sentimentality with the wisdom of a seasoned man and the goofy, light heart of a teenager, but he’s never glib or condescending, and his mastery of tone makes this delightful farce a nutty feel-gooder about the difference between a friend and a contact. (The Landmark) (Ella Taylor)

TALK TO ME See film feature

TEKKONKINKREET The word “tekkonkinkreet” is a punning mishmash of the Japanese terms for “iron,” “concrete” and “muscles,” which goes a long way toward explaining what’s wrong with the anime feature Tekkonkinkreet: It’s both too cute and too rambling. Director Michael Arias manages to translate the visual quirks of Taiyo Matsumoto’s serial manga to the screen but he just can’t seem to stop himself from cramming episode after episode into a non-episodic medium. We get endless scenes of death and regeneration, mostly centering around Black and White, two street urchins who either are or act like brothers. Black is a teenager with visions of grandeur while White still looks like a boy and seems even younger. These vigilantes-in-training are waging war against mobsters who want to build an amusement park in the ancient heart of their beloved city. This metropolis is the film’s saving grace: Like many classic superhero cycles, Tekkonkinkreet harnesses the dramatic power of the decaying city to spectacular effect. (The Landmark) (Julia Wallace)

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