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Movie Reviews: Beaufort, Horton Hears a Who!, The Unforeseen 

Also Doomsday and All In This Tea

Wednesday, Mar 12 2008
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GO  ALL IN THIS TEA What is the price of tea in China? You’ll learn that and a good deal more from this gentle, highly engaging new feature — the first in 12 years — from veteran documentarian Les Blank, who here turns his camera on American tea importer David Lee Hoffman as he traverses the wilds of the Orient in search of new varieties of the famous seeped beverage. A Conradian adventurer in khaki suit and panama hat, Hoffman cuts a compelling figure whether tussling with Chinese bureaucrats about the advantages of organic farming over mass production, impulsively proposing a 12-hour trek to a local grower’s farm or meeting up with German filmmaker Werner Herzog (subject of Blank’s classic Burden of Dreams), who compares the flavor of one particular brew to walking through a forest just after a rainstorm. Along the way, Blank and co-director Gina Leibrecht offer a compact history of tea consumption throughout the centuries (including a discussion of 19th-century British “tea espionage” — who knew?), so that even those who can’t tell their green from their oolong won’t be lost. All told, it’s a lovely work in a minor key — no Ratatouille or Mondovino to be sure, but a valuable addition to the growing canon of slow-food films for our fast-food nation. (Grande 4-Plex) (Scott Foundas)

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Horton Hears a Who!

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The Unforeseen

 GO  BEAUFORT What a pity that the people behind two radically different but equally peace-loving specimens of Israel’s increasingly lively national cinema — Beaufort and The Band’s Visit — got into a shouting match about which deserved to go forward for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards. (Beaufort won.) Like many in the current wave of antiwar movies, director Joseph Cedar’s film traffics in the mad illogic of battles whose long-forgotten purpose has hardened into mindless routine. But this hushed, atmospheric mood piece, intricately scripted by Cedar and novelist Ron Leshem, is no action picture — unless you count the steady put-put of Hezbollah shells landing uncomfortably close to a small army unit left to guard the 12th-century castle that in 2000 is all that remains of Israel’s abortive 18-year war with Lebanon. Led by a commander progressively unhinged by the attrition of his and his country’s heroic ideals, the men — boys, really — have little to sustain them but their own black humor and the dreary, absurd daily business of watching over nothing much. We learn just enough about the lives and dreams of each soldier to make us weep for the shocking egalitarianism of death, which rides roughshod over the cautious and the reckless alike. Cedar’s understated humanism renders all the more painful the unstated coda that, six years after Israel’s retreat from Lebanon, the wounds opened all over again. (Music Hall; One Colorado; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

 DOOMSDAY Remember that scene in The Warriors where the Turnbull ACs chase the heroes in a pimped-out bus? Whoa! And remember that part in Escape From New York where Snake Plissken pulls the switcheroo on the commander-in-chief? Cool! How about that showdown in The Road Warrior with all the modified hot rods? And the fast zombies from 28 Days Later, and the death-match arena from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and Excalibur, and Streets of Fire, and Army of Darkness, and, and...and so writer-director Neil Marshall (The Descent) cobbles together his third feature, in the manner of a junk-food glutton topping a pizza with French onion dip, ice cream, and four bags of Cool Ranch Doritos. Actually, it’s a fascinating conundrum: How can a filmmaker take can’t-miss elements from a DVD stash of superior mayhem, smash ’em all together, and not end up with the most! freakin’! awesomest! movie! of ALL! GODDAMN! TIME!!! How? By not creating a single memorable character, decent line, or moment that wasn’t lifted from its context in a better movie. You almost have to credit Marshall for the rampaging senselessness of this contraption, which sends a lithe ass-kicker (Rhona Mitra) into plague-ravaged, walled-off 2035 Scotland to fetch a possible antidote: Somehow the director wedges in pus-spurting ghouls, club-wielding punks, human cookouts, motorcycle chases, knights in armor, and gladiator fights, while breezing past matters as trivial as the plentitude of gas in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. I still believe with all my heart that no movie with real car stunts, a tough-chick hero, and a severed head that thunks directly into the camera can be all bad. But this is pushing it. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

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