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Movie Reviews: Kurt Cobain: About a Son, Michael Clayton 

Also Beyond Hatred, Blade Runner: The Final Cut and more

Wednesday, Oct 3 2007
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 BEYOND HATRED On a September evening in 2002, three skinhead hatemongers set out to “do an Arab” in Leo Lagrange Park, located just 90 miles northeast of Paris in the city of Reims. Instead, they targeted a 29-year-old gay man named François Chenu, whom they beat unconscious and threw into a lake to drown. That we never see the faces of either the victim or the murderers in Beyond Hatred is a fascinating component to director Olivier Meyrou’s experiment in concentrated humanism, which makes its bones through the distanced yet unsettling observations and recollections of Chenu’s tightly knit clan. Beginning without any explanatory voiceover some “730 days” after the crime, the film shows the family members intellectualizing their grief to one another, often talking themselves into a loop while smoking too many cigarettes. Thankfully, their collective rationality and Meyrou’s intent aren’t about launching a predictable crusade against homophobia itself, but trying to quietly understand the socioeconomic backgrounds and failings that molded a trio of youngsters, one of whom was still a minor, into senseless killers. It’s easy to find fault with the film’s maudlin score, overlong static shots devoid of the abstract poetry they infer, and a second half that frustratingly pursues legal rather than personal ramifications at a trial where cameras aren’t allowed. But, following the family’s path to closure, we’ll forgive. (Grande 4-Plex) (Aaron Hillis)


BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT Ridley Scott’s vanguard science-fiction epic — dismissed by critics and a financial flop in 1982; loser of the production-design Oscar to Gandhi — returns to the big screen for its 25th anniversary, digitally tweaked in hundreds of ways, most of which will be noticed only by the most pious of fanboys. (For those who are wondering: Yes, the bad Joanna Cassidy stunt double has been replaced.) Mainly, the re-release is a good excuse to indulge once more in Scott’s iconic and highly influential vision of a future Los Angeles choked by rain, neon and cheap pleasure palaces, where a bounty hunter named Deckard (Harrison Ford), who could pass for the bastard son of Mike Hammer, trolls the godforsaken urban landscape for those renegade humanoids known as “replicants.” Of course, there comes a steely-eyed brunette (Sean Young), who may be replicant herself, or perhaps just one of those no-nonsense dames grown hard and resilient to the violent ways of a man’s world. It has always been difficult to discuss Blade Runner — one of the few genuine masterpieces of the forlorn 1980s — without focusing on its style, and yet it is a movie where style becomes content and vice versa, as the romantic fatalism of ’40s film noir freely intermingles with the visionary imagination of Philip K. Dick. Finally, we arrive at something like a biblical tragedy, in which the prodigal Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) rages with his last breath against the imperfect creator who cursed him with a life doomed to burn brightly but too briefly upon this fragile planet. (The Landmark) (Scott Foundas)


THE DARJEELING LIMITED See film feature.


FEEL THE NOISE The “noise” referred to in the title of this inane uplift tale for teens, which was co-produced by Jennifer Lopez, is the sexy, melodic sound of “reggaeton” — a fusion of reggae, hip-hop, electronica, and salsa born in Jamaica in the 1990s. Its rhythms soothe Rob (Omarion Grandberry), a troubled Harlem teen and would-be rapper who’s sent to Puerto Rico to live with the father (Giancarlo Esposito) he’s never met. Rob snubs Dad but hits it off with his step-brother Javi (Victor Rasuk), an amateur DJ with a killer track in need of a vocal. First-time screenwriter Albert Leon appears to have turned for music industry insight not to his famous producer (who has no excuses) but to other music-themed movies (Mariah Carey’s Glitter, perhaps?). That would explain an unbearably trite third act in which the brothers, as well as Rob’s sexy girlfriend (Zulay Henao), are whisked off to Manhattan by a record exec who smells a hit in the boy’s one-song demo. Making his English-language debut, Argentine director Alejandro Chomski can’t do a thing with the American sequences, but he does find momentary grace in the dance clubs of San Juan, where the young know to close their eyes and let the music speak for them. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

THE HEARTBREAK KID More of a re-mix than a re-make of the Elaine May-directed 1972 original, Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s The Heartbreak Kid seeks to rekindle There’s Something About Mary’s critical and box-office magic by casting Ben Stiller as a newlywed sporting goods salesman and newcomer Malin Akerman (a blonde Diaz ringer with long, loping legs and a wide open smile) as his errant bride. Leaving the Jew/Shiksa conundrum of the original behind, here Stiller’s Eddie Cantor marries the marquee goddess after a brief courtship, only to find she’s a bit of a mess in the fine print. On their disastrous Mexican honeymoon, he meets salt-of-the-earth southerner Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), clearly a superior option because — like Diaz in Mary — she likes sports, cracks jokes, and presumably lacks his wife’s unseemly sex drive. Misunderstandings, misbehaviors and the gloriously hit-and-miss upchuck humor of the Farrellys ensues. Some of the gags seem so desperate to shock that they’re just desperate, and the film ends about four times before it actually ends. The Heartbreak Kid is funniest when it leaves the body-humor behind for something truly subversive: a sequence of Eddie’s repeated attempts to cross the Mexico/U.S. border with a bunch of illegals and get back home is wicked, ticklish and inspired—all of the things the Farrellys should get home to themselves. (Citywide) (Michelle Orange)


IN BETWEEN DAYS This superb debut feature by Korean-American director So Yong Kim seems to be constructed entirely of the ineffable and intangible, those fleeting moments that most movies treat as throwaways. Aimie (Jiseon Kim), a teenage Korean girl newly immigrated to Canada, drops out of a class and uses the refunded tuition to buy a bracelet for Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), the boy friend she wishes were her boyfriend. Against painterly post-card images of Canadian winter, she narrates letters to her absent father. Sometimes, she just trudges through freshly fallen snow, enjoying the crunch it makes beneath her boots. For years, If Chinese director Jia Zhang Ke were to follow his ever-migrating rural Chinese characters into the great Asian-American diaspora, the results might look something like In Between Days. But So — who also co-wrote the film with her filmmaker husband, Bradley Rust Gray — is a gifted artist in her own right, with a rare appreciation for the poetic possibilities of digital video. And in her screen debut, the 21-year-old Kim proves a remarkably fluid screen presence. (Music Hall) (Scott Foundas)


KURT COBAIN: ABOUT A SON Kurt Cobain: About a Son sounds horrific on paper. It’s a 92-minute experimental documentary about the endlessly lionized “alternative” icon that doesn’t include a guitar lick of his music, a testimonial from anyone personally acquainted with the man, or even Cobain’s likeness — that is, until the final scene. Plus, the film’s director is A.J. Schnack, whose most notable credit is a rock doc about They Might Be Giants. It’s like entrusting James Dean’s legacy to a Don Knotts biographer. Never mind that the producer is fond of saying, “The whole idea of this film is not to look back at Kurt, it’s to look into Kurt.” Rape me, my friend. In truth, producer Michael Azerrad was Kurt’s friend — at least as much as Truman Capote was a confidante of Perry Smith’s. In the early ’90s, Azerrad extensively interviewed the generational lodestar for the authorized biography Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana, a project that left the reporter with 20-something hours of Cobain on tape. Schnack edited the audio into a kind of narration, and About a Son is essentially a dead rock star talking about his life for an hour-and-a-half. And it’s deeply moving. Azerrad caught his subject at a rather poignant moment. Frances Bean had just been born, grunge was a juggernaut, and Kurt was contemplative, candid, and lucid — able to reflect on the factors that would inevitably kill him. (Nuart) (Camille Dodero)


THE MAN WHO SOULED THE WORLD If the breadth of your skateboarding knowledge is Tony Hawk, Vans low-tops, and whatever you retained from Dogtown and Z-Boys, director Mike Hill’s frustratingly inarticulate chronicle of champion freestyler turned “godfather of street” and countercultural entrepreneur Steve Rocco can sound like it’s in an alien tongue. From the late ’80s through the ’90s, Rocco proved either a marketing genius or a lucky lunatic when his World Industries enterprise irreverently shook up the biz by running competitor-smearing ads, launching and selling its own magazine to Larry Flynt, producing edgy videos that begat Spike Jonze and the Jackass crew, and ultimately transferring corporate ownership to the hands of skaters. Hiding somewhere in these anecdotes (and the requisite fisheye-lens feats and follies) is a compelling tale of large-scale bridge-burning and the repercussions of giving the young and immature too much money, power, and freedom (including a tangent never explored in which this changing of the guard is intriguingly compared to communism). But Hill’s bionic jump cuts and far-too-insider approach may cause dizziness for those who don’t know their double kick molds from their Jell-O molds, and just because he had access to countless postproduction digital effects doesn’t mean he should’ve used them all. (Sunset 5; Monica 4-Plex) (Aaron Hillis)


{mosimage} MICHAEL CLAYTON Do corporate crooks deal with whistleblowers by sending goons in shower caps to inject them with funny stuff between their toes? I think not. But leaving aside the plausibility gap (how else are you going to give whey-faced company types their little bit of fun?), this loving throwback to the paranoid thrillers of the ’70s is a beauty. We already know from the Bourne franchise that Tony Gilroy can write, but his first outing as writer-­director shows how elegantly he can weave a literate screenplay around a populous ensemble and a plot at once so serpentine and circular, so admirably unwilling to foreshadow or explain itself, that for the first half hour I had no idea what was going on. As George Clooney thickens ever so slightly into middle age, one of his more endearing charms is his willingness to play the rumpled loser — in this case, a bagman who never made partner at a fancy law firm but is kept on for his ability to clean up clients’ messes. A failed lawyer, husband, father, son and brother, Michael Clayton coasts discontentedly to pay off his gambling bills, until he’s asked to tidy up one of the firm’s star attorneys (the excellent Tom Wilkinson), who’s gone off his meds and threatens to blow the lid on a lucrative but stinking deal involving toxic chemicals. Moral dilemmas multiply like bunnies, leavened with black comedy as illicit surveillance ensues in the usual well-appointed lofts and rainy Manhattan streets. But the striking thing about Michael Clayton, via its digressive, garrulous screenplay, is the way it complicates character to show that under the right conditions, good people can betray themselves and others. There’s no one to truly love or hate, from Sydney Pollack’s quietly devious honcho, to Wilkinson’s holy madman, to Tilda Swinton as a tricky senior partner in nice suits that peel off to reveal sweaty armpits and a gift for rationalization. In one key meaty exchange, Clayton unwittingly reveals to his disbelieving little boy the faulty thinking that has got him into a much more long-term mess than the one he’s in right now. The payoff is divine, but what sticks in memory is not the power plays but the movie’s terrifyingly topical grasp of employee burnout, and the corrupting terror of job loss. (AMC Century City; The ArcLight; The Grove) (Ella Taylor)


MY KID COULD PAINT THAT An irresistible subject for a documentary: the charming celebrity of Marla Olmstead, an artist from upstate New York whose talent for impossibly confident abstractions triggered a media frenzy and five-figure price tags. Unveiled at a local coffee shop, Olmstead’s middling AbEx doodles might not have inspired more than a glance were it not for the astonishing revelation that their maker was all of 4 years old. Supposedly. An unexpected development: growing suspicions that Mark Olmstead, Marla’s father and an amateur painter himself, may have lent more than encouraging words to his daughter. Dazzled by the media attention (and, one presumes, the money), he was stumped by the inevitable backlash, unable to offer convincing proof of his daughter’s sole authorship. What began as a human-interest story for filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev led down stranger paths than the Duchampian conundrums of modern art. The Olmsteads, desiring an ally to tell their side of the story, granted Bar-Lev intimate access to their household, and My Kid Could Paint That is foremost a study in a most unsettling family dynamic. Are Mark and Laura lying? Evidence points to some level of assistance, but no conclusions are drawn. “Your documentary will be a lie,” talking head and New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman says to the camera, speaking to larger questions of authenticity raised by Bar-Lev; “it’s how you decided to tell a particular story.” (Sunset 5; The Landmark; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Nathan Lee)


OUTSOURCED Outsourced has all the charm and color of its made-in-India locations, yet it’s crafted — well crafted — according to familiar Hollywood convention. Director John Jeffcoat and co-writer George Wing took the DIY route with their eminently salable script, in which an unhappy Seattle yuppie (Josh Hamilton) goes to train his replacement in India, where he meets a cute girl (Ayesha Dharker) who causes him to reconsider his workaholic life. Yes, there are wandering cows, weird food, and the inevitable diarrhea jokes, but Outsourced has a gentle touch with the obvious fish-out-of-water touchstones. Dharker, who labors in a cow-infested call center, is winning — promote that woman to The Office already! And though we can imagine Hollywood adapting the rom-com starring, say, Luke Wilson and Salma Hayek (with Hindu bindi, no doubt), like the cheerfully ragged, flooded, cross-wired call center that Hamilton eventually builds in Gharapuri — complete with shrine in every cubicle! — the low-cost alternative has a lot more character. (Sunset 5; Fallbrook 7) (Brian Miller)


RESILIENCE Would that the whole of Resilience possessed the beauty of its opening shot — an avant-garde hiccup before a nightmare hour-and-a-half of mouth-agape banality. It hurts to rag on something with such a microbudget, but writer-director Paul Bojack’s overlay of stories runs on empty: Juxtaposed against a weird HR exec’s relationship to two women is the meaningless account of HR man’s distant cousin (Steve Wilcox), who threatens to get him canned for faking a work reference for their uncle (Al Rossi). The scent of an impending thriller emerges from this gassy bog of bad foley, inexplicably enraged performances, and what-gives action only to quickly dissipate after someone is casually offed. Bojack has a talent for finding the worst possible angle from which to shoot scenes, and though he claims to want to gauge the resilience of his main character, he only succeeds at testing ours. (Grande 4-Plex) (Ed Gonzalez)


THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING This slight, sloppy fantasy tale aimed at the Harry Potter fan club is based, ever so loosely, on a five-book series Susan Cooper started in the 1960s — specifically on the second volume, about an innocent sent on a quest for magical objects, for which Cooper won the Newbery Award in 1974. There will be no prizes this go-round: Director David L. Cunningham and screenwriter John Hodge have crafted from Cooper’s complex mythology a bland and stupefyingly simple story absent the care of its creator. Fourteen-year-old Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig), an American living with his family in England, is enlisted by The Old Ones (among them Ian McShane and Frances Conroy) to find six trinkets that will fend off the impending Darkness, brought about by The Rider (Christopher Eccleston). The trinkets can only be found during Will’s travels through time, which look more like a couple of minutes spent on a studio back lot, as the filmmakers apparently didn’t have enough time, interest or dough to send the kid on a proper trip. From its less-than-special effects to its rushed ending, this whole endeavor is a lazy, wasted emasculation of a beloved series deserving of more thoughtful treatment. Guess they have four more books left to get it right. Oh, joy. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

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