By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
FALLING The director Richard Dutcher is far from a household name, even in houses belonging to independent film aficionados. His moves don’t play in major festivals, and in a reverse of the usual distribution pattern, they tend to open first in places like Utah (Dutcher’s home state) and Idaho, making their way to the coasts weeks or even months later. And yet, Dutcher has directed at least one bona fide hit, his 2000 sophomore feature God’s Army, which he also wrote and starred in and which grossed north of $2.5 million on a budget of only $300,000 — all the more remarkable in that Dutcher distributed the film himself too. This is probably where I should mention that Dutcher is Mormon, and that God’s Army, which painted a generally cheerful portrait of young LDS missionaries working the streets of Hollywood, owed much of its success to Mormon moviegoers (who, generally speaking, aren’t the moviegoing type). Since then, Dutcher has averaged a new film every two or three years, and to judge by the titles alone — Brigham City, States of Grace — you might conclude that he has continued to make movies for a Mormon audience. Until, that is, you see Dutcher’s films, at which point it becomes difficult to say whether he is preaching to the choir or trying to set it ablaze.
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If Brigham City (2001), a crackerjack thriller whose graphic violence and multiple spiritual crises (a favorite Dutcher subject) did much to alienate the God’s Army crowd, was something like the Mormon Se7en, Dutcher’s latest, Falling (which opens locally this weekend), might be considered the Mormon Medium Cool, seasoned with a healthy pinch of Paul Schrader’s Hardcore. In it, Dutcher plays Eric Boyle, an aspiring filmmaker working as a freelance newshound, hawking footage of fires, suicides and car crashes to the evening news. Meanwhile, Boyle’s aspiring actress wife, Davey (Virginia Reece), sells her soul in a different way, going out on auditions only to be asked to disrobe by lecherous producers and casting agents.
Not one to beat around the bush, Dutcher opens Falling with Eric’s grisly discovery of Davey’s dead body dangling from the ceiling of their Hollywood home, then loops back to show us how the characters came to that moment. What follows is a searing portrait of the wages of sin in the big city. In Dutcher’s L.A., violence and depravity lurk around every corner, and if he sometimes seems to overstate the case, it’s equally clear that he’s working in hyperbole, that he’s inviting us into his own earthly inferno, climaxing in an act of grievous bodily harm (perpetrated against Dutcher) that makes the crucifixion from The Passion of the Christ look positively PG by comparison. Deliberately crude around the edges, with the grainy, hand-held images of an ’80s-era grindhouse special, this open wound of a movie is at once Dutcher’s most accomplished and personal film to date — the one that feels like Dutcher made it for no one other than himself, because if he didn’t get this off his chest, it might have eaten him alive. But here it is in theaters for anyone else who dares. If that makes Falling sound hard to watch, it is — but it’s even harder to shake. (Music Hall) (Scott Foundas)
FLY ME TO THE MOON The 3-D adventure Fly Me to the Moon imagines an alternate history in which three adolescent houseflies stow away aboard Apollo 11, unintentionally thwarting the under-dramatized space ambitions of a thuggish conglomerate of Russian flies. Alluding to but never showing us the eyes on the back of its characters’ heads, and with Christopher Lloyd’s Grandpa appearing as if he was modeled after Willem Dafoe instead of Jeff Goldblum (or — you know — an actual housefly!), this sketchily conceived and executed space yarn is one missed opportunity after another. As the 3-D genre necessitates, whole patches of the film hinge on pointy objects popping off the screen and threatening ocular protrusion, but aside from Neil Armstrong landing on the lunar surface and awestruck fly-boy Scooter (David Gore) witnessing the totemic event from inside the man’s helmet, there’s nothing inventive about the film’s perspective of the world and the space above our heads. The be-all-that-you-can-be message is sweet, as is the way the main characters are written as secret saviors of the Apollo 11 mission, but the characterizations and details are derivative, with Scooter and his buddies I.Q. (Philip Bolden) and Nat (Trevor Gagnon) more than suggesting Alvin and the Chipmunks, their zero-gravity tomfoolery ripped off wholesale from Homer Simpson’s own. These flies are meant to be one of a kind, but they’re just pop-culture magpies. (Burbank 16; Criterion 6; Glendale Exchange 10) (Ed Gonzalez)
HENRY POOLE IS HERE Henry Poole is dying. Diagnosed with an unspecified fatal disease, Poole (Luke Wilson) retreats into the numbing sunniness of suburban Los Angeles, buying a cruddy house and waiting until his daily diet of doughnuts and liquor does him in. Directed by Mark Pellington (taking a break from thrillers like Arlington Road), Henry Poole Is Here tells the uplifting, quasi-spiritual tale of how Poole’s plan of going out Leaving Las Vegas–style fails thanks to a beautiful divorcée neighbor (Radha Mitchell) and a mysterious stain on his house that resembles Christ’s face and dispenses the occasional miracle. Of all the Frat Pack collective, Wilson has been the most comfortable playing buttoned-down adults, so while his performance as a despondent atheist who learns to live and love is affecting in a low-key way, it’s fun to interpret the soppy Henry Poole Is Here as his sincere attempt to confront the postadolescent male angst that his cinematic buddies usually laugh off. But Pellington applies his message — the necessity of hope — a trifle thickly, treating the Christ image’s magical powers with such reverence that you’re almost set up to expect an M. Night Shyamalan–esque third-act switcheroo. What you’re left with instead is a film that could have used some of the genuine intrigue of Pellington’s thrillers to help offset the increasingly doe-eyed narrative. (Citytwide) (Tim Grierson)
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