Movie Reviews: Encounters at the End of the World, Finding Amanda, Wanted | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Movie Reviews: Encounters at the End of the World, Finding Amanda, Wanted 

Also, The Unknown Woman, Expired and more

Wednesday, Jun 25 2008
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GO  ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD Werner Herzog has made a career documenting extreme landscapes and courting danger. Encounters at the End of the World chronicles his trip to Antarctica, and, perhaps because the director is approaching old-master status, skews toward the observational. Taking a military plane out of New Zealand, Herzog ponders his fellow travelers, wondering who they are and what they dream. As discovered (or scripted), the U.S. settlement at McMurdo Sound is populated by an assortment of geeks, vagabonds and loners. Herzog soon escapes to a research camp, where he is delighted to find a physicist engaged in a spiritual quest, searching for almost undetectable subatomic particles in a parallel universe. Herzog takes care to inoculate himself against New Age sentimentality and avoids feel-good anthropomorphism. Although not specifically mentioned, his bête noire is March of the Penguins. When he does visit penguin land, Herzog asks a painfully diffident scientist: “Is there such a thing as insanity among penguins? Could they just go crazy because they’ve had enough of their colony?” Before the scientist can answer, the filmmaker cuts to a single bird waddling away from its colleagues toward the interior mountains and, as Herzog notes, certain death. Herzog may loathe the projection of human attributes onto the animal kingdom, but he’s managed to find an antihero: There’s no mistaking his point that the doomed, irrational creature is us. (Nuart) (J. Hoberman)

Chuck Hodes

Wanted

 

EXPIRED Despite Expired’s many flaws, give writer-director Cecilia Miniucchi points for gamely tackling an almost unworkable conceit in her romantic-comedy debut: the awkward courtship of two thoroughly incompatible people. Homely, withdrawn Claire (doe-eyed Samantha Morton) leads a dull life as a Santa Monica meter maid, until she attracts the attention of Jay (Jason Patric), a fellow parking official whose two most notable features are his bushy mustache and his raging paranoid misanthropy. Miniucchi intentionally refuses to justify the unlikely spark between her characters, and, consequently, Expired is a peculiar (though never dull) experiment that keeps its narrative momentum revving by continually asking: “What horrible thing can Jay do to Claire next?” Patric’s performance is a less-mannered variation on his sexist swine from Your Friends & Neighbors, and he manages to make Jay’s struggle to be both a pig and a worthy soul mate oddly honorable. But Morton has a harder time with the material’s snide tone, and it’s impossible to overlook Miniucchi’s condescending attitude toward her supposedly lovable losers. Expired pretends to be a valentine to society’s outcasts, but it’s just one more indie comedy that mocks its characters while sucking up to its knowing audience, assuring all of us hip urbanites that the romantic insecurities of “weirdos” don’t deserve our sympathy. (Sunset 5; Monica 4-Plex) (Tim Grierson)

click to enlarge CHUCK HODES - Wanted
  • Chuck Hodes
  • Wanted

 

GO  FINDING AMANDA Drop a gambler into Las Vegas and of course he’ll lose his shirt, but the how and why of it remain underexplored even after — dare I say because of? — Leaving Las Vegas. In its modest but incisive way, Peter Tolan’s jaunty comedy highlights everything that was self-indulgent, grandiose and false about that overrated movie. As addicts go, second-tier television writer Taylor Peters (Matthew Broderick, roly-poly and wry) is low-key and small potatoes in everything but the dough he fritters away while trying to win back his long-suffering wife (Maura Tierney). This he attempts by traveling to Sin City to drag his niece (a terrific Brittany Snow), a seemingly happy and house-proud hooker, to rehab. Written and directed with brio and rueful firsthand knowledge of his subject by Tolan, executive producer of the acclaimed TV series Rescue Me, the movie never falls into the jargon of denial or sets us morally above its quietly hapless protagonist. Instead, Finding Amanda puts us inside the deluded but impregnable inner logic Taylor sustains from one self-inflicted calamity to the next. By keeping the tone light and the players human (Steve Coogan has a nice turn as a greasy casino host), and never, ever romanticizing the addict, Finding Amanda comes by its heartbreak honestly. (Sunset 5; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

 

GUNNIN’ FOR THAT #1 SPOT Gunnin’ concerns a phenomenon proliferated by the broadband age: premature national-sports stardom at the high-school level. The destination point of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s doc is the Elite 24 invitational game, a stop-off along the way to the NBA for two dozen of America’s top teenage hoops ­phenoms, dropped in Harlem’s Rucker Park to dunk for the New York media. The venerable spinning-headline montage gets its update as the eight highlighted kids are introduced by piled-up browser windows (DraftTracker, ESPN.com) and pixelated YouTube highlight reels. But as each player is run through the same routine, the burden of the formulaic structure starts to wear. Exacerbating the monotony are the subjects, who meld into an amorphous portrait of a “good kid” trying to “elevate his game” and “keep his nose clean.” They’re more articulate with a ball, leaving Yauch to mythologize his HS Titans in NBA Jams largesse, every pass soundtracked as incoming ordnance, with the wide-angle lenses placed under each hoop creating funhouse distortion and the illusion of an acre-long court. (Broadway 4) (Nick Pinkerton)

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