Movie Reviews: Young People Fucking, A Secret, Ping Pong Playa 

Also, Sukiyaki Western Django, Surfer, Dude, and more

Wednesday, Sep 10 2008

ALICE NEEL Alice Neel is a spiritual and tonal clone of My Architect, Nathaniel Kahn’s icky, self-aggrandizing 2003 documentary about his father. Like Kahn, Andrew Neel plays a dual role here as both director and grandson of the eponymous Alice, a well-known portraitist. And also like Kahn, he insists on picking at the scabs of his family’s secrets until we feel embarrassed for him. In one scene, the filmmaker exchanges a volley of “fuck you’s” with his father; in another, he prods his uncle to discuss childhood abuse. Alice comes off best: always painting, never whining, despite a lack of funds or fame. When the brash, bad-boy theatrics of Abstract Expressionism consumed the 1950s art world, Neel’s figurative humanism was so unfashionable that she and her children lived on welfare. Still, she sketched on the streets of Greenwich Village and took lovers of a most unsuitable sort, including a dope fiend. Neel is a compelling subject, but she’s more alive in one of her paintings than in all of the voluminous video footage her grandson thrusts upon us. (Music Hall) (Julia Wallace)

BANGKOK DANGEROUS By way of introduction, globetrotting assassin Joe (Nicolas Cage) tells us the rules for survival as a hit man, the most important being: Don’t get emotionally attached to anyone. As soon as he breathes those words during his cold-as-ice voiceover, alert moviegoers will instantly peg Bangkok Dangerous as another of those dopey crime thrillers in which the hardcore, badass antihero inexplicably decides one day to lower his guard and open his heart, causing all kinds of hell to break loose. Adapting their 1999 Thai film, Hong Kong directors and brothers Oxide and Danny Pang (The Eye) start things off promisingly, draping the Bangkok locations in a sleek neon sleaze that suggests low-down B-movie pleasure. But soon Joe, who’s in town to kill four targets, takes in troublemaker Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm) as his apprentice and falls for the deaf-mute shopkeeper Fon (Charlie Yeung), and the sinking realization kicks in: These people are taking this nonsense seriously. What follows is a series of ponderous training montages — shoot those melons, Kong! — and painfully precious courtship scenes between Joe and Fon, stranding an audience that just came to see some cool shoot-’em-ups. They do happen eventually but not before Joe reveals his soft side by bonding with an elephant. You heard me. (Citywide) (Tim Grierson)

DAVID & FATIMA Politicians and filmmakers, one might conclude from director Alain Zaloum’s suffocatingly simple movie David & Fatima, have developed similar approaches over the years: platitudes, platitudes, platitudes. But in the case of this Israeli-Palestinian twist on Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers and their warring clans inhabit a world too complex and too dusty with ancient conflicts for such banalities to ring true. The result is a film so emphatic in its treatment of the parallels between David Isaac (Cameron Van Hoy) and Fatima Aziz (Danielle Pollack) that the handful of affecting moments, like the lovers’ dance in a dilapidated shack by the Dead Sea, end up as whispers drowned out by the political din. More typical is the clumsy opening sequence in which David and Fatima’s mothers, going into labor, meet while en route to the hospital, perhaps spurring David’s belief that “if we pretend everything is OK, the world might change.” By the time Martin Landau swoops in as a radical rabbi who denies love’s power to conquer all, it’s too late: The humanist Realpolitik he imparts with his steady voice and watery eyes has gone distinctly out of vogue this year. “Do you think this is some kind of joke?” David’s sister asks him after discovering his tryst. “Some exercise in Middle East politics?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes. With Tony Curtis as a wizened romantic named Schwartz. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Matt Brennan)

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