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Movie Reviews: Body of War, Four Minutes, Shotgun 

Plus, Baby Mama, Deception and other April 25 releases

Wednesday, Apr 23 2008
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Page 3 of 4

 

GO  FOUR MINUTES Four Minutes won two Lola Awards — the German equivalent of the Oscar — last year, including one for Best Picture, which should tell you something about how far removed from Hollywood the Deutsche Filmakademie is. This is no Titanic, or even a Crash: It’s a blood-on-the-keys piano psychodrama set in a women’s prison, peppered with lesbian overtones and unsettling flashbacks. If watching tender body parts smashed against panes of glass and set on fire makes you queasy, stay away. If Nazi allusions and yearnings make you uncomfortable, stay far away. Jenny (played by the brilliantly repulsive Hannah Herzsprung) is a sullen, stony-eyed young killer with remarkable musical talent. Traude (Monica Bleibtreu) is an ancient piano teacher who haunts the prison hoping to atone for a 50-year-old misdeed — and is determined to take Jenny on as a student and groom her for an upcoming competition, even after the girl beats a guard into bloody submission against a baby grand. Although the tone of the film drifts precariously toward the self-serious, writer-director Chris Kraus redeems himself with snatches of dark jailhouse humor and a quiet attentiveness to minute gradations of human feeling. The milieu is predictably drab, but the relationship between the two women is as poignant as the Schubert impromptu to which it unfolds. (Music Hall) (Julia Wallace)

 

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JACK AND JILL VS. THE WORLD Jack (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is a successful New York advertising exec caught in a complacent existence; Jill (Taryn Manning) is the perky bohemian determined to shake him out of his shell. This second feature from director Vanessa Parise is named after the nursery rhyme in which a brother and sister suffer a simple tumble, but this film’s Jill faces a slightly more severe problem: cystic fibrosis. The basic plot is a twist on a story that Hollywood has been rewriting since at least 1938, when Katharine Hepburn improved Cary Grant’s life by turning it upside down in Bringing Up Baby. That film didn’t need the specter of life-threatening illness to make us care about its characters, but then again, that film had Grant and Hepburn. Prinze’s face has filled out since the heartthrob days of She’s All That, his broad, boyish smile and dark eyes now flattened into a vacant stare and stiffened mouth; here is someone for whom acting is no longer fun. Manning, best known for her role as the runty hooker Nola in Hustle & Flow, relishes playing “quirky” characters, but her performance here borders on caricature — between her blonde locks, feisty grin and rusty etiquette, one can’t watch Jill and not think of Amy Poehler in the ads for Baby Mama. More farce might have served the film well; as Parise draws from a playbook of medical melodrama and romantic-comedies clichés, her moral about living outside the box becomes harder and harder to swallow. (Beverly Center) (Sam Sweet)

 

GO  PATHOLOGY Crank co-creators Neveldine and Taylor — who apparently no longer require the luxury of first names — scripted this tale of deranged young doctors in the L.A. coroner’s office, who test each other to come up with ever more elaborate murders in hopes of stumping their colleagues as to the cause of death. The duo bring their crazed, anything-goes sensibility to the table, but they aren’t a perfect match with German director Marc Schoelermann, who seems to like his horror more brooding and artsy. So while our main characters engage in plenty of gratuitous sex, violence and combinations of both, Schoelermann will be damned if he lets the rather obviously named Dr. Grey (Milo Ventimiglia) look like he’s enjoying a second of it. As the new kid who gets swept up in all the madness, Ventimiglia is morose from the start, and not exactly the portrait of seduced innocence this story really needs. Nonetheless, when a movie opens with the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally as performed by cadavers, and later proceeds to sex scenes involving scalpels and needles, the actual plot is inconsequential. Fans of hard-R exploitation will love this; everyone else will likely be appalled. Screw ’em. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

 

A PLUMM SUMMER Quiz time: This perfectly pleasant old-school children’s movie failed to get commercial distribution because (a) no talking dog; (b) no other visible special effects; (c) its up-front admission that small-town America is not all golden evening light and supportive grizzled neighbors; or (d) it’s a vanity project for broadcaster Lisa Guerrero, who stars as a plucky mom, and whose husband co-produced. Probably all of the above, and to be honest, A Plumm Summer isn’t remotely in the same league as My Dog Skip, Fly Away Home, Lassie or any of the handful of traditional family dramas that have restored luster to a genre that’s been overtaken by techno-acrobats. But first-time director Caroline Zelder brings warmth and restraint to this tale of Montana child detectives on the case of a beloved frog puppet that, to the devastation of its over-invested owner-operator (Henry Winkler), goes missing. Evidently, this really happened back in 1968. The rather creaky plot woven by Zelder and co-writers Frank Antonelli and T.J. Lynch, in which it takes a village to find a frog, opens up into a sensitive family drama about a teenage boy (an appealing Chris J. Kelly) desperately trying to please his heedless father (William Baldwin), a former boxer and full-time drunk. There’s a twist I won’t ruin for you, but let’s just say that anyone over the age of 10 who hasn’t figured it out by halftime hasn’t been paying attention. (Selected theaters) (Ella Taylor)

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