Movie Reviews: Redbelt, A Walk Into the Sea, Swimming in Auschwitz 

Plus other releases opening May 2

Wednesday, Apr 30 2008

ANAMORPH Those nutty cinematic serial killers — always taunting their pursuers with omniscient brilliance, always devising those elaborate crime-scene installations, yet somehow finding time to add that little something extra (death’s-head moth larvae, ornate nods to the Seven Deadly Sins, etc.) that means so much to a grumpy forensic investigator. The gimmick here is anamorphosis, the forced-perspective trick by which an image from one angle looks like something completely different from another angle. That means guilt-ridden CSI vet Willem Dafoe, just back from Anton Chigurh’s barber, must decode the grisly tableaux of an artist whose principal media are blood, sharp objects and eviscerated corpses. (Can Joel-Peter Witkin account for his whereabouts?) Twenty-five years ago, the Dario Argento of Tenebre might’ve socked this style-baiting silliness into the stratosphere, or at least past its eye-rolling contrivances (like the killer’s ability to inconspicuously whip up a room-sized camera obscura). Director and co-writer H.S. Miller just lays on the chilly blues and a wet-blanket mood of arty anguish, leaving cinematographer Fred Murphy and production designer Jackson De Govia to trump up trompe l’oeils of carefully posed carrion. Any resemblance between these and the real-world practice known as murder — committed for trifling motivations like blind anger and money — is strictly coincidental. (Sunset 5) (Jim Ridley)

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A Walk Into the Sea

 THE FAVOR Police photographer Lawrence Hull (Frank Wood) spends most of his time watching TV with his dog in a drab house in Bayonne, New Jersey. When old flame Caroline (Paige Turco) moves back to town, hope flickers in him again, only to be cruelly snuffed out when she dies in a freak accident after only one candlelit dinner date. As a consolation prize — or favor — Lawrence adopts Caroline’s teenage son, Johnny (Dillonesque Ryan Donowho), an affectingly disaffected portrait in caged grief. The kid gets along with Lawrence’s dog, but not so famously with its owner. Somehow, it’s inevitable that Lawrence will end up taking mug shots of Johnny, and the movie soon becomes a matter of what foster-parental agonies must be endured before the gentle Lawrence’s patience snaps, and how long after that Johnny will accept him as a father figure. The characters all communicate better with dogs than people, but by the end of this cheerless fable they have managed to make the leap to healthy relationships with members of their own species. There are some strong performances here (especially from Isidra Vega as the nice girl from the neighborhood and Jesse Kelly as a whiny pot dealer) and sensitive direction from first-timer Eva Aridjis, but The Favor ultimately takes itself too seriously and ends up stranded in an unconvincing no man’s land of cute bleakness. (Grande 4-Plex) (John Tottenham)

 HATS OFF You may not know Mimi Weddell’s name, but you probably know her face: As Jyll Johnstone’s documentary shows, the pool of agile 93-year-old women adept at playing aristocratic and/or crazy is a small one. Clips more and less memorable punctuate Johnstone’s loving profile, spanning a decade in the bit player’s life: multiple Law & Order appearances; a memorable guest spot on Sex and the City; slumped over catatonic next to Bill Murray for a one-shot gag in Broken Flowers. There’s no great argument to be made for Weddell as a master thespian, just one for her perseverance and amazing physical condition: As an nonagenarian, she can complete full gymnastics routines in record time. Johnstone’s profile doesn’t sand away Weddell’s rough edges — her motivational cliché of “Rise above it” applies not just to career obstacles, daughter Sarah explains, but to her own children. It also doesn’t make her add up to anything more than a cantankerous curiosity. Weddell isn’t really representative of an older generation of actors; she’s one of a kind. But this visually indifferent documentary never explains why that matters. (Sunset 5; Town Center 5; Playhouse 7) (Vadim Rizov)

 MADE OF HONOR In Made of Honor, Patrick Dempsey plays a conveniently rich and willfully single serial “fornicator” slowly but surely domesticated by his unspoken love for longtime BFF Hannah (Michelle Monaghan), who’s on her way to Scotland to marry Mr. Right Now since Mr. Right’s too chickenshit to say boo before her “I do.” Which, come to think of it, not only sums up this movie, but more or less half of the films in which Dempsey starred between 1987 and 2003, when he was scheduled to headline a Fox TV series based on the film About a Boy with Dempsey in the Hugh Grant role of the conveniently rich and willfully single serial “fornicator” slowly but surely domesticated by his blah blah blah. And then, of course, there’s the My Best Friend’s Wedding connection — only, the filmmakers and McDreamy have already been so upfront about the resemblance that to further acknowledge it would be playing right into their grubby paws. Director Paul Weiland and the three (!) screenwriters it took to boil down thousands of bad movies to 101 minutes haven’t provided this one with a single original thought; it should only entertain those still getting adjusted to the idea of talkies. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

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