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Movie Reviews: Just Sex and Nothing Else, Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show and more 

Plus this week's film pick: The Band's Visit

Wednesday, Feb 6 2008
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FILM PICK  THE BAND'S VISIT Heavily accented English (don’t worry, there are subtitles throughout) is the only common tongue shared by the characters of Israeli writer-director Eran Kolirin’s impressive feature debut, in which the members of an Egyptian policemen’s orchestra find themselves waylaid in an Israeli backwater town after taking the wrong bus to a concert. The musicians earn the sympathy of a brassy café owner (Ronit Elkabetz), who arranges for the men to spend the night as the lodgers of a few not entirely willing friends and neighbors — the very Israelis whose forefathers fought the Egyptians for three decades. In the hands of many filmmakers, that basic setup would have made for an earnest exercise in getting to know thy former enemy. But Kolirin is too smart to bore us with humanistic bromides, and he has a sense of humor as dry as desert wind. Yes, The Band’s Visit (which reopens in local theaters this weekend, following a one-week Oscar-qualifying run last December) is touching and uplifting and all those other audience-friendly emotions against which film critics are believed to religiously steel themselves. But it merely plucks at your heartstrings rather than yanking on them, and leaves you filled with an elating sense of possibility. Elkabetz, the sultry star of the 2001 Israeli import Late Marriage, is remarkable, as is actor Sasson Gabai as the band’s curmudgeonly widower conductor. (ArcLight Hollywood; The Landmark; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Scott Foundas)

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The Band's Visit: All dressed up and nowhere to go ...

GO  BILLY THE KID Working as a talent scout specializing in "street scouting" (finding ordinary people in real-life locales), director Jennifer Venditti stumbled upon 15-year-old rural-Maine resident Billy. An eccentric loner (by choice and by brutally enforced teen hierarchies) who quotes Robert Frost and The Terminator, plays air-guitar and rocks AC/DC shirts (but also likes disco), Billy has an intense stare and a lumbering walk, and is at once childlike and wise beyond his years. Venditti follows Billy as he interacts with family and schoolmates, the latter of whom treat him like a freak, while the former slowly fill in a dark back story. (It was only after the film was completed that Billy was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.) Straightforward in terms of craftsmanship, this very moving, sometimes discomfiting character study raises questions about the nature of documentary filmmaking. Mild controversy has arisen over some moments that seem staged, and others in which Billy transparently plays to the camera. (In a New York Times interview in which Venditti spoke about Billy's wooing of a young waitress, the director said, "He knew he needed a love story [for the film], a damsel in distress, and of course he found her.") Those are pertinent concerns. But what you ultimately take from the film is the awareness that this smart, self-aware, uncensored kid has been playing to a camera in his own head since well before Venditti came along. (Sunset 5) (Ernest Hardy)

THE EYE Ever had a premonition of imminent catastrophe, only to watch helplessly as the worst unfolds? You have if you saw the previews for this snoozer of a paranormal shocker and bought a ticket anyway. Adapted from a derivative Pang Brothers thriller — a U.K.-Hong Kong-Singapore co-production helpfully identified in the credits as a "Chinese-language" film, lest it be mistaken for one of the late-'90s Japanese horror films it's ripping off — the setup is essentially the same: A blind concert violinist (Jessica Alba) gets a cornea transplant and is suddenly privy to visions of the recently (or is it imminently?) deceased. From there, as directed by French horror hommes David Moreau and Xavier Palud (Them), the entire movie is an object lesson in diminishing returns: of nagging shock cuts and blaring sound cues used as indiscriminately as joy buzzers; of "look out behind you!" scares that wouldn't make a Cub Scout flinch; of a blurry visual scheme that was far more terrifying in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, where it sought empathy rather than empty sensation. The vulnerability of eyes is normally one of horror's most reliable tropes; this packs all the ocular thrills of a three-hour wait at LensCrafters. Advice to cornea-transplant candidates: If your donor has watched this, politely say, "Next." (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

THE HOTTIE AND THE NOTTIE Crass, shrill, disingenuous, tawdry, mean-spirited, vulgar, idiotic, boring, slapdash, half-assed, and very, very unfunny, The Hottie and the Nottie stars Paris Hilton as ... but really, need I go on? [Ed.: A little, yes.] Okay, fine: Hilton stars as monosyllabic event-planner Cristabelle Abbott, "the hottest woman in Los Angeles" and absurd object of desire for Nate Cooper (Joel David Moore), an unemployed, unsympathetic asshole. Scripted by Heidi Ferrer and shat onscreen by director Tom Putnam, this strong contender for Worst Movie I've Ever Seen follows Nate's attempt to woo the "hottie" while suffering the rancid foot fungus, oozing facial blisters and hideous tooth decay of her best friend, June Phigg (Christine Lakin). Which leads to such hilarious antics as the yoga-class mishap, in which Nate, inching his nose into Cristabelle's downward-dogging, spandex-clad ass, gets a whiff of Phiggian foot funk instead. Guffaw! Bonus point for Hilton's straight-faced delivery of the sentence, "Do you think I'm a pod person?" Unfortunately, I'll have to take it right back for the inclusion of Randy, a retarded albino stalker. (Burbank Town Center 8; Culver Plaza; One Colorado; Winnetka All Stadium 21) (Nathan Lee)

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