Film Reviews: Daddy Day Camp, Stardust | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Film Reviews: Daddy Day Camp, Stardust 

Also this week's pick, 12:08 East of Bucharest

Wednesday, Aug 8 2007
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2 DAYS IN PARIS See film feature.


{mosimage} PICK 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST  Sixteen years after the fall of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, three residents of a hick Romanian town come together on a local television chat show to reminisce about their alleged revolutionary zeal on that fateful day. Selective memory rules in 12:08 East of Bucharest as the three — a coarse retiree; a depressed, alcoholic teacher; and a presenter to rival Ted Baxter with his fatuous platitudes and mixed metaphors — try to spin themselves as heroes of the revolution, while being interrupted by callers with revisionist agendas of their own. First-time director Corneliu Porumboiu’s political satire, which deservedly won the Golden Camera award at Cannes last year, is uproariously funny and bitingly critical of social hypocrisy before and after Ceausescu, and of the new forms of mythmaking and corruption that have replaced Soviet-style autocracy. This brilliantly caustic movie — easily the best in a burgeoning and fertile effort to come to grips with post-Soviet malaise in Central and Eastern Europe — offers living proof that when it comes to politics, comedy is the sincerest form of dissidence. (Music Hall; Playhouse 7)  (Ella Taylor)


 CUT SLEEVE BOYS There’s a lot to like in writer-director Ray Yeung’s low-key romantic comedy, once you get past its overly enunciated identity issues, which were, according to Yeung, the film’s raison d’être. But does throwing a true, bright light on the lives and loves of contemporary gay Asians in Britain automatically trump the age-old dictum that to show is better than to tell? And why is it even still necessary to be asking this question so far into the rise of contemporary gay cinema — especially when the best moments of Cut Sleeve Boys provide the obvious answer? After the sudden death of their best friend Gavin, a computer technician with closeted dreams of fashion design, Ash (Chowee Leow) and Mel (Steven Lim) are forced to confront their own anxieties of aging and loneliness after years of riding high (literally and figuratively) on London’s beauty-, youth- and pleasure-obsessed gay scene. While Ash explores his tranny side in a last-ditch search for Mr. Right, scene queen Mel gives monogamy a go. Yeung handles their parallel journeys of self-discovery with humor, grace and an occasionally heavy hand, with Leow giving a winning performance as Ash. (Regent Showcase) (Paul Malcolm)


DADDY DAY CAMP As the child star at the center of The Wonder Years, Fred Savage convincingly portrayed a sensitive young boy with such sweet optimism that you believed that the character (and the actor) would carry that idealistic spark into adulthood. We may never know what became of Kevin Arnold, but after years of paying dues helming disposable kiddie TV, the 31-year-old Savage has clawed his way into the director’s chair of his first feature, the depressingly shrill Daddy Day Camp. A sequel to 2003’s Daddy Day Care, the new film brings back clueless suburban dads Charlie (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Phil (Paul Rae) to rescue their beloved childhood summer camp, which faces foreclosure. (Curiously, the film doesn’t explain why the two men no longer look like Eddie Murphy and Jeff Garlin.) There’s no point being highbrow about a film that relies on the typical fart-puke-nuts-kaboom brand of family comedy, but Savage’s lethargic, impersonal approach can’t even make Camp’s gross-out moments appropriately revolting. As for the child performers, not one of them displays any wit or recognizable human emotion. At this rate, they’ll never get a chance to direct something this terrible when they’re older. (Citywide) (Tim Grierson)


DESCENT After intellectually gifted, emotionally bruised 19-year-old Maya (Rosario Dawson) is raped by fellow college student Jared (Chad Faust), she pulls further inward, isolating herself with cinema’s patented badge of post-sexual-assault anguish: a severe new haircut. Then, thanks to Adrian (Marcus Patrick) — a magnetic, omnisexual pied piper of club life with a palpable dark vibe — she falls into an escapist spiral of drugs and sex, a free fall that is artily rendered by writer-director Talia Lugacy and cinematographer Christopher LaVasseur. Descent wants desperately to be a provocative tale of female revenge and the unexpected fallout not only from the initial rape but also from its carefully plotted payback. That goal is short-circuited, however, by the fact that it’s not a smart film. There are endless obvious omissions (does Maya tell anyone — cops, family, her old roommate with whom she is still close — about the rape?) and gaps in character logic that insult the audience’s intelligence (would even the dumbest jock really fall for the trap that Maya sets for Jared?). There are also a handful of interesting moments — the lesbo-erotic spark between Maya and her ex-roommate, Jared’s unexpected reaction to his comeuppance — but those are quickly sketched, then discarded. What’s left is a well-acted trifle straining to be a hard-hitting morality play. (Music Hall) (Ernest Hardy)


ROCKET SCIENCE See film feature.


RUSH HOUR 3 See film feature.


SKINWALKERS The only thing more boring than a vampire with moral issues about biting people in the neck is a werewolf who’d rather become fully human than howl at the moon once a month. The small clan of Minnesota “skinwalkers” who dominate this witless horror flick believe that hope for ending their “curse” lies in a little boy (Matthew Knight) whose momma (Rhona Mitra) is human but whose dearly deceased daddy was a king-pin werewolf. When he turns 13, the boy’s blood will boil or something, and all the werewolves of the world will lose their fur for good. A bad wolf (Jason Behr) with no desire for a day job and a mortgage wants to kill the kid, which leads to an endless series of shoot-outs in which hardly anyone gets hit — werewolves, it seems, are bad shots. Director Jim Isaac (Jason X) lavishes more attention on those gunfights than on the few half-hearted and confusingly edited man-into-beast transformation scenes — this despite the fact that this film comes from the production company of make-up master Stan Winston, who’d have been better off financing a remake of The Howling. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)


STARDUST This is less an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 1999 novel than of its dust-jacket synopsis, which will come as disconcerting news to fans of the author, whose delicate, jigsaw-puzzle fantasies are populated by contemptuous faeries and sanguine mortals. Lost in Stardust is the poetry of Gaiman’s writing, which is replaced by brute-force storytelling. Still, the story itself is sturdy enough to survive, as it’s as old as papyrus itself — a quest tale in which a young man named Tristan (the incredibly generic Charlie Cox) must endure myriad perils in order to fetch a fallen star that’s the object of his alleged True Love’s deepest desire. Alas, the star’s far more than a radiant rock; she’s a girl called Yvaine, played by Claire Danes, who’s also being chased by a trio of witches, chief among them Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), and two would-be kings. Stardust will accrue many comparisons to Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, but director Matthew Vaughn’s variation on the theme isn’t as playful as Reiner’s, and when Stardust does devolve into comedy, it fails miserably. Robert De Niro shows up halfway through as a closeted, cross-dressing captain of a high-flying pirate ship, and he’s an utter distraction — a reminder that, hey, this is just a silly movie about silly things starring famous people acting all silly. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)


UNDERDOG Poor Underdog, ending up Disney’s bitch and working for the folks who snuffed Old Yeller. The pill-popping canine crime fighter from the 1960s Total Television cartoon comes to the big screen as a realistically (I guess that’s what you’d call it) computer-animated beagle who talks in Jason Lee’s pleasantly scruffy Earlspeak. Only now, he’s the agent of bonding between a widowed ex-cop (Oliver Stone — oops, James Belushi) and his sullen son (Alex Neuberger), whose coming together forms the movie’s emotional arc. It was probably a good idea not to traumatize kids with the static, violent weirdness of the old TV show, but director Frederik Du Chau and his three screenwriters haven’t replaced it with anything more memorable: Even the promising team of Peter Dinklage’s mad scientist Simon Barsinister and Patrick Warburton’s henchman Cad turns out to be a bust. But Underdog does get an upgrade for the show’s Sweet Polly Purebred, here a literal horndog (voiced by Amy Adams) who dreams of going “off leash” with the hero: “There isn’t a hose cold enough to break that up.” The running time is 84 minutes. To answer your question: Yes, there are “outtakes.” (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)
click to enlarge (Tartan Films)
  • (Tartan Films)

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