Movie Reviews: 30 Days of Night, Canvas, Futbaal | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Movie Reviews: 30 Days of Night, Canvas, Futbaal 

Also Golda's Balcony, The Price of Sugar, Things We Lost in the Fire and more

Wednesday, Oct 17 2007
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THE BEACH PARTY AT THE THRESHOLD OF HELL Jonny Gillette and Kevin Wheatley’s “futuristic historical documentary” (presented under the long-creatively-diminished National Lampoon banner) is a cautionary tale of what happens when you try to make a cult classic before the cult has even seen the film. Two decades after the nuclear apocalypse, in A.D. 2097, a wisecracking heir to the Kennedy clan (Wheatley, sort of like Ryan Reynolds crossed with Jeremy Piven) emerges from the underground and proclaims himself Vice King of New America. Along with two humanoid ex–Secret Service robots and a cannibal vixen, the gang road-trips across the country to battle it out with a spawn of Satan, a descendant of Fidel Castro, and other suit-wearing rogues. As they chase and kill each other through the desert, the cheapest of splatter effects and hand-drawn animation ensues. Funnier on paper than in reality, this self-impressed film has the stop-and-go pace of a student driver, taking time out to title-card every character and cutting to folklore historians who serve as clunky narrators to scenes that are written in expository dialogue anyway. A couple of chuckles actually stick, but for post-apocalyptic anarchy and thrills, you’re better off renting Six String Samurai or a Mad Max flick. (Sunset 5) (Aaron Hillis)


BROKEN It’s hard to say who suffers most after boy meets girl at the beach. Is it Hope (Heather Graham), who turns to heroin and can’t get a singing gig because of those damned track marks? Is it Will (Jeremy Sisto), who goes psycho after Hope dumps him? Or is it audiences, who are subjected to the most dubious plays on character names since Nearing Grace? Hungry for dope but short on cash, boy keeps girl in check with a maxim from his youth: “Where there’s a Will, there’s a way.” Disgusted by Will’s perpetual drugging — and maybe even his corny witticisms — Hope cleans up and gets a job at a diner, which becomes the locus of director Alan White’s lame aspirations to Lynchian meta-ness. Freely toggling back and forth in time, White lays on Hope a misogynistic guilt trip that revolves around bird-brained psychoanalysis and gratuitous girl-on-girl action. Every diner patron laughably represents some facet of Hope’s victimology as an artist and woman, from the agent who insincerely promises fame to a group of aspiring musicians to the filthy old woman who stands for Hope’s future if she doesn’t lay off the smack. By the time a skeevy producer offers her a part in a movie titled — wait for it — Broken, you begin to pity Graham for having walked into such a transparent booby trap. (Sunset 5) (Ed Gonzalez)


CANVAS Mental disease is too often reduced in film to self-destructive eccentricity, sensationalist melodrama or vilifying thrills; in the cases where it’s thankfully not, the ailing are then bigger-than-life, even famously documented sufferers. But as endorsed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, writer-director Joseph Greco’s convincing feature debut tries something more daring by depicting an entirely average Florida family’s struggles with schizophrenia. The patient in question is Marcia Gay Harden, a hobby painter already showing signs of instability by the time we’re introduced to the whole clan. Her hubby (a riveting Joe Pantoliano) is a hump-busting construction worker whose marital devotion remains steadfast no matter how many times the cops are called in, and their 10-year-old son (newcomer Devon Gearhart) — who vents his confusion and humiliation through school rebellion — is largely the heart and entrance to the story. (Greco himself had a mentally ill parent.) Through the young towhead’s eyes, puppy love becomes a welcome distraction from the one-two punch of Mom’s institutionalization and Dad’s descent into neglect and full-blown denial (he’s ditched both work and parenting to build a sailboat in the driveway for nostalgia’s sake). Greco’s sincerity is so palpable that the frequent uplift feels deserved, but considering his just-passable filmmaking and the demeaning heart-tugger of a score, Canvas becomes a tug of war against perceptions: Is it a powerful indie, or a made-for-TV diversion? (Sunset 5) (Aaron Hillis)


THE COMEBACKS One of Dictionary.com’s definitions of “comeback” is “a clever or effective retort; rejoinder; riposte.” Perhaps, then, the moviegoing audience ought to file some sort of lawsuit, as The Comebacks displays nothing remotely clever or effective; rather, it will make you question whether in fact you ever found David Koechner funny in all those Will Ferrell comedies, since he generates exactly zero laughs as the loser coach of an underdog football team in this alleged satire of inspirational sports movies. Simply put, if you can’t do better than 1989’s Major League, don’t bother. Though this sophomore effort from director Tom Brady (of The Hot Chick, a masterpiece of sophistication in comparison) isn’t as obnoxiously awful as, say, Epic Movie; it’s simply not funny in the least. (If you’re going to parody such disasters as the mentally-handicapped-Cuba-Gooding film Radio, it might be prudent to generate more laughs than the unintentional ones delivered by the original.) Brady’s sole decent idea is the casting of Carl Weathers as an evil coach, but much like the narrative, it goes nowhere. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)


CONTROL See film feature. Also see interview with director Anton Corbijn.


FUTBAAL The U.S. brand of soccer — or futbaal, as Futbaal would have it — has become a ticket to riches for many of the world’s top players, and David Beckham (is he ever really going to play a complete game for the L.A. Galaxy?) is only the latest if most publicized example. So it is for Iranian national team star Babak Azzari (Sasha Maxime), the hero of Futbaal, who bolts from the club and signs with the supposedly deep-pocketed L.A. Vipers once Iran whips Yankee ass in an exhibition match. Ah, but as we all know, Los Angeles is one dark, deep den of iniquity, hot women, fast cars, parties, booze ’n’ tough guys — not to mention a few Persian baddies who mean to teach traitor Babak a lesson or two about what it means to turn his back on his homeland. As a slice of Irangeles — a special cultural stream of Los Angeles–based Iranian-Americans that the movies have been profoundly bereft in exploring — this is flatter than flatbread, and as drama... well, even the long, long waits between goals in a match on the pitch are more enthralling. (Music Hall) (Robert Koehler)


 GOLDA’S BALCONY Mary Richards’ best friend Rhoda aside, Valerie Harper is not Jewish. But you’d never know it from the divinely adenoidal whine in which the actress superbly serves up Israel’s least-photogenic and (next to Yitzhak Rabin) best-loved prime minister — as well as every other player in Jeremy Kagan’s excellent adaptation of William Gibson’s stage play. From one of two politically resonant patios, Golda Meir looks out on archival photos and footage that tie her own history to that of Israel as it beats a bloody path to statehood, from the pogroms Goldie Mabovitz witnessed as a child in Kiev, through the Holocaust, which cast a shadow on her youth in Milwaukee, and on to the tumultuous brokering of a partitioned Palestine in 1948. There’s not an image-maker alive today who could spiff up Golda, she of the bag dresses, crinkly bun, and thick ankles planted in granny shoes. Golda’s Balcony handily dispatches Meir’s grandmotherly image and establishes her as an activist, macher, fund-raiser extraordinaire, and a hardheaded Zionist whose siege mentality was shaped by the Holocaust and the five hostile Arab nations she saw as ready to destroy her fledgling. The other balcony takes us into speculation that Golda considered unleashing nuclear weapons on Egypt in 1973’s Yom Kippur War. That’s unverified, but anyone who could bluff Henry Kissinger into coughing up billions in aid is an iron lady for the ages. (Music Hall; Fallbrook 7) (Ella Taylor)


GONE BABY GONE In his strikingly downbeat directorial debut, Ben Affleck pulls off something of a blue-moon rarity: an American movie of genuine moral complexity. From the moment Patrick Kenzie, played by Casey Affleck, promises a hard-living skank named Helene McCready that he’ll find her missing daughter, we know he’s going to make good on it or die trying. That’s what the heroic shamus does in detective fiction: He honors his code. But the great strength of Affleck’s wrenching crime drama, adapted from the fourth book in novelist Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie–Angie Gennaro series, is its ruthless undermining of the juvenile good-bad certainties of that code. Aided by girlfriend/girl Friday Angie (Michelle Monaghan), Kenzie goes trawling for the little girl through an underworld of roughneck bars and drug hideouts — the first of many good intentions that, by the end, will have greased an expressway to hell. The flimsy plotting is offset by sharp Boston location shooting, a persuasive cast — especially Affleck, Ed Harris, and the brilliant Amy Ryan as Helene — and an ending whose bleak ethical options will haunt you for days. For the full review, visit www.laweekly.com/film. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)


LAAGA CHUNARI MEIN DAAG This feel-good song-and-dance movie about a ­woman driven into upper-crust prostitution by a family financial crisis is one of the stranger genre hybrids to emerge from Bollywood recently. Written and directed by the steady-handed journeyman auteur Pradeep Sarkar (Parineeta), the movie works so hard to transform its shocking subject into acceptable material for middlebrow melodrama that it never deals with it. Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (literally “My veil is stained,” the implication being a loss of innocence) has at least one promisingly strong sequence, in which the pampered younger daughter (blazing-eyed Konkona Sen Sharma) of the elite but impoverished Sahay family confronts the older sister (Rani Mukerji), who has curtailed her own education to pour money into the family coffers — by any means necessary. Sharma’s character is a Bollywood classic: She bears an unmistakable resemblance to the kid brother played by Anil Kapoor in Vinod Chopra’s landmark Bombay crime film Parinda (Pigeon), who is shocked to discover that his big brother has been working as a gangster to pay his school fees. The tumult that erupts in Parinda is a good deal more satisfying than the touchy-feely acceptance that trickles forth here, just in time for a double-wedding song-and-dance finale. Laaga Chunari Mein Daag has a lot to recommend it: There are a couple of good production numbers, from an opening romp on the shores of the Ganges that has a brightly colored, folkloric quality, to a courtship montage filmed in Switzerland, with Mukerji and cameo co-star Abhishek Bachchan, that is a knowing throwback to the Yash Chopra weepies of the 1980s. But in order to fit into this glossy context, the 800-pound issue at the heart of the movie has to be sanitized out of existence: no pimps, no drugs, no middle-aged male flesh. (Naz 8; AMC Puente Hills 20; Fallbrook 7) (David Chute)


NAKED BOYS SINGING There is little in the world more redundant than a gay musical. The creators of the long-running stage hit Naked Boys Singing knew this, and pushed the notion to its extreme. They did so by not only putting unapologetically queer themes in the songs but also by what they conceived as the musical’s big marketing gimmick — having the cast perform fully nude. Up front, they addressed and shrewdly pandered to the more prurient of theatergoing motives. This adaptation of the play is simply a filmed theater performance that makes the occasional concession to actually being a movie (at one point, co-directors Robert Schrock and Troy Christian shoot the stage from overhead and Busby Berkeley–style choreography is employed), but this is otherwise a fairly straightforward documenting of a stage show. On the plus side: Almost every race is represented, the guys are both cut and uncut (one number is actually titled “The Bliss of a Bris”), and the cast is generally attractive — especially former Madonna backup dancer Kevin Stea. But few of the songs, which range from gleefully raunchy to gratingly sentimental, are truly memorable. No lingering melodies or especially noteworthy turns of phrase. The gimmick is the thing. (Regent Showcase) (Ernest Hardy)


THE PRICE OF SUGAR The tainted relationship between the dessert on our tables and the suffering of those who produce it gets a horrifying workout in Bill Haney’s multilayered account of Haitian cane cutters in the Dominican Republic. On one level, The Price of Sugar is a story of the struggle between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, two poor nations that share the same island — a conflict made manifest in the de facto enslavement of Haitian migrant laborers on Dominican sugar plantations. There, they work long hours under appalling conditions for no pay, supervised by armed guards employed by powerful ­family-­owned Dominican companies who hold the government in their pockets. Those same powers foment resentment among ordinary Dominicans against Father Christopher Hartley, a Catholic priest who lives among the Haitians, wrings concessions for them out of a reluctant government and tries to lay down a self-help infrastructure. Out of this sorry tale of human trafficking emerges a fascinating portrait of this handsome, pugnacious, one-man NGO, who left a cushy life with his patrician Anglo-Spanish ­family to work with Mother Teresa and devote himself to the oppressed. His father, who in a lovely irony made his fortune as the CEO of one of England’s oldest jam-making companies, describes his son as “very difficult.” Thank God for that: Like many absolutists, Father Christopher can be a pain in the ass, which is just what’s needed for the padded rear ends of these slave owners — and for those of us who gorge on the results. (Monica 4-Plex; One Colorado) (Ella Taylor)


RENDITION
See film feature


RESERVATION ROAD
See film feature


SARAH LANDON AND THE PARANORMAL HOUR An attempt to launch a Goosebumps-style tween-horror franchise on a Happy Meal budget, this joint effort of the Comrie clan — writer-director Lisa, co-author John, and actors Brian, Dan, and Rick — probably should have been saved for Movie Night at the next family reunion. For about 20 minutes, this digressive ghost tale about a visiting teen (Rissa Walters) who stumbles onto a small-town curse involving two brothers and a long-dead sports hero has an innocuous homemade charm: It’s as not-unpleasantly amateurish as the regional genre movies that four-walled rural theaters in the days before video. But do-nothing Sarah may be the dullest, most featureless and inactive protagonist in recent movies — great news for those Scooby-Doo die-hards who never got enough Freddy. As musty fake scares (yikes! a shrieking cat!) yield to unintended laughs and nail-chewing impatience, that hour starts to feel like a fortnight in a funeral-home foyer. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)


SARANG A soulful romantic melodrama embedded in a bare-knuckled gangster saga, the expert Korean entertainment Sarang (A Love) is the kind of flagrantly unrealistic movie that makes us enjoy having our buttons pushed. Written and directed by veteran hit maker Kwak Kyung-Taek (Friend, Typhoon), it chronicles the ironic destiny of Chae In-Ho (Ju Jin-Mo), who begins as a teenage brawler on the mean streets of Pusan, morphs into a sleek mob lieutenant in slim-line dark suits and aviator shades, and from there into a windswept tragic hero: a stoic Heathcliff in an armor-plated Mercedes. But In-Ho’s rise to power is haunted by the memory of the love of his life, the impossibly dewy and beautiful Jang Mi-Ju (Park Si-Hyeon), who has a face like a flower. Tough guy In-Ho melts from the inside out and swears to devote his life to protecting Mi-Ju, and who could blame him? It could be argued that neither of the lovers ever seems jaded or damaged enough, but the fact that they drift through a series of often sordid and violent events without seeming to get deeply scarred is what makes Sarang such an effective moony fantasy — a gorgeously packaged, artfully tousled soap with an extra measure of operatic glamour. (MPark 4) (David Chute)


THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE If you’ve always yearned to see Halle Berry’s earlobe magnified to a hundred times its normal size, get yourself to a screening of Things We Lost in the Fire. In Danish director Susanne Bier’s first American effort, the camera lingers so long and lusciously on its lead actress’s perfect little pores that it quickly starts to resemble a Neutrogena commercial. Berry is fine in her limited role — she plays Audrey Burke, a Seattle bobo left widowed when her sainted husband, Brian (David Duchovny), is murdered — but Benicio del Toro’s a squinty-eyed genius, and the only reason this film is halfway worth seeing. His performance as Jerry, Brian’s heroin-addicted best friend, brings to mind Jack Nicholson’s antic magnetism in the days before he lapsed into self-parody. Outside of this excellence, you can expect the expected here: Audrey cries copiously, and Jerry bonds Full House–style with the cloyingly precocious (but gorgeous!) Burke children. There are some pitch-­perfect ­moments of camaraderie between Jerry and a dorky, deadpan neighbor (John Carroll Lynch), but Audrey’s helpless need for a male presence, and her odd inability to control her sexuality in the absence of her husband, made this feminist’s skin crawl. (Citywide) (Julia Wallace)


30 DAYS OF NIGHT Writer Steve Niles and illustrator Ben Templesmith’s three-issue comic-book series, originally published in 2002, spawned a subsequent franchise and now a big-screen adaptation by doing little more than drenching the centuries-old vampire myth in just a little more gore — something for the kids. Director David Slade’s stab at the story is actually rather ordinary: a grisly game of hide-and-seek, pitting the town’s few survivors (among them Josh Hartnett as the sheriff) against the bloodsucking gang, led by Danny Huston, who speaks in a foreign tongue just for extra spookiness. The promise of endless night is misleading; they should have called this 30 Days for Night, as the thing’s as brightly lit as any MGM musical, despite the power being out all over town. Alas, that’s just a nitpicky point — there are much larger problems, chief among them that the movie’s just not very scary. And perhaps that’s the point: It’s as much a Western as it is a horror film, with Hartnett as Will Kane and Huston’s posse as the evildoers come to do him in. Get it? High Noon, when it’s always midnight. Shrug. Still, it’s the best thing Hartnett’s ever done; the undead sure do have a way of making him look, ya know, alive. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)


TRIGGER MAN Imagine Old Joy reconceived as a horror movie and you’ll be at least partly prepared for Trigger Man, the startling sophomore feature by 26-year-old writer-director (and Larry Fessenden protégé) Ti West, whose vampire-bat epic The Roost played local theaters briefly back in 2005. Working from the purportedly true story of three buddies on a Delaware hunting trip attacked by an unseen sniper, West fashions an uncommonly naturalistic terror tale in which the emphasis on landscape and the felt passage of time owes less to cut-and-run splatter-cinema hallmarks like Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave than with the work of structural/experimental filmmakers like Michael Snow and Chantal Akerman. Rife with echoes of the 9/11 attacks and the Virginia Tech shootings, Trigger Man denies its audience conventional narrative satisfactions while creating an almost unbearable atmosphere of voyeurism and random violence, right up to a final scene that teases us with resolution only to devolve into yet another enigma. Who’s gunning whom in Trigger Man? The point is that it scarcely matters in a world where everyday life has become a deadly contact sport. (Grande 4-Plex) (Scott Foundas)


TYLER PERRY’S WHY DID I GET MARRIED? Tyler Perry makes movies for a hundred reasons, and a love of cinema doesn’t even make the top 99. He uses a camera pretty much as a recording device, as if afraid some of that fancy mise en scène might taint his message or screw up the stage material he’s road-tested so thoroughly. But at his best — when his vaudevillian shamelessness as performer and promoter collides with his messianic bent for melodrama — the artlessness of his movies serves an emotional directness as hard to laugh off as the glare of your minister. Either you buy the premise here — essentially The Big Chillin’, with four couples airing out their marriages over a snowy weekend in the Rockies — or you sit your ass in that chair and listen up anyway while Mr. Perry teaches you something. As the group’s sharp-tongued truth teller (basically the Madea role), Tasha Smith gets the harshest lines and the biggest laughs, while R&B diva Jill Scott, as a self-deprecating doormat, earns the whoops and hollers her Cinderella makeover incites. No, there’s not a microbe of subtlety, except in Malik Yoba’s performance as a quietly grieving parent, but the writer-director-producer-star would rather save your soul and your marriage than engage your aesthetics. That’s probably why every other line was greeted at my screening with a chorus of stern Mm-hmms and Exactly!s (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)


THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER: WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DAD? Early on in the superb documentary The Unknown Soldier, director Michael Verhoeven slips in a piece of Holocaust footage I’ve never seen before. A German soldier parts a presumably Jewish mother from her toddler. Mother and child keep running back toward one another. The soldier keeps separating them, and as he frog-marches the woman away, he administers a vicious kick to her reluctantly compliant back. That kick epitomizes the questions raised by a recent exhibition that picked the scab off a festering wound in the psyche of a country slowly grappling with its past. Did the regular German army work hand in glove with the SS, and did the rank and file knowingly participate in the genocide, or were they just following orders? The evidence that they both knew and did is overwhelming, as many in the long line of visitors to the exhibition seem to recognize. So great is the impulse to deny or refute, though, that the exhibit was picketed not just by neo-Nazi thugs, but by gray-haired children and grandchildren of the soldiers, anxious to preserve their relatives’ good names. Verhoeven poked away at the same stubborn myopia in his acclaimed 1990 feature The Nasty Girl, but here he brings in a new generation of homegrown historians — significantly, most of them less than 50 years old — who not only plug away at unearthing the facts, but reframe the historical questions to focus less on Nazi policies than on those who carried them out to the letter, and more. Pulling away from the focus on Auschwitz, the historians show that 40 percent of Nazi victims — Jews and other “non-Aryans,” partisans, and thousands of Soviet POWs — were brutalized or killed “by archaic means,” meaning they were clubbed, shot, frozen or slowly starved to death by regular soldiers who went far beyond carrying out orders. And this in the face of next to no negative consequences for the few who refused. The Third Reich fed not merely on anti-Semitism, but on the dedicated fanaticism and cruelty so essential to the practice of genocide. What is it like to admit that you took part in a sustained bloodbath? Few do, and the lone octogenarian army veteran who fesses up to the camera apologizes with such studied serenity, you’re left wondering what the confession means to him. (Grande 4-Plex) (Ella Taylor)


WEIRDSVILLE On a long winter’s night in Weedsville, Ontario, a brainy heroin addict named Dexter (Scott Speedman) emerges from a self-imposed detox to discover that his pal Royce (Wes Bentley) has let their friend Mattie (Taryn Manning) overdose on the stash they’re all supposed to be selling for their dealer. Thinking Mattie dead (she’s not), the boys try to find a place to bury her, only to stumble upon three amateur devil worshippers who’re also having a bad night. Weirdsville, written by newcomer Willem Wennekers, was an audience hit at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, and although it didn’t strike me as especially funny — not even the chase scene featuring dwarfs in Renaissance garb — I have a feeling it’ll become a DVD/cable favorite. Director Allan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume) has an old-school hippie’s belief that hallucinogens can be the path first to flights of absurdity, and later to enlightenment. Maybe, but I kept wishing for a rewrite that sent the Satanists packing and pulled the love story hiding within Wennekers’ script to the fore. Why waste three sexy young leads? Bentley has little to do beyond playing dumb, while Speedman tries in vain not to gaze longingly at Manning, a kinetic beauty who spends most of this movie passed out cold. (Fairfax) (Chuck Wilson)

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