Movie Reviews: High School Musical 3, Passengers, Noah's Arc: Jumping the Broom 

Also, The Tree of Life, Frontrunners and more

Wednesday, Oct 22 2008

THE ELEPHANT KING In the miasma of permanent-vacation desperation (c.f., Malcolm Lowry, Saint Jack) we find Jake (Jonno Roberts), a footloose American hedonist in Thailand, blowing his ’rents’ retirement funds on getting blown. Lonesome, he flies out his kid brother (Tate Ellington), an un-laid squirmy introvert, for a taste of highlife in the Land of Smiles. This King of Marvin Gardens redux is a pale excuse for a cinematographer’s holiday, with actors along as compositional place holders. Dueling for Worst Performance honors are a teeth-gnashingly flustered Ellen Burstyn as the boys’ forsaken mother (“You have to watch out for the AIDS bacteria”) and Josef Sommer as their father, seen clicking through Thai porn sites — a handful of scenes with them and you’re ready for exile. It doesn’t help that auteur Seth Grossman dispenses press-kit head slappers like, “The way these brothers take care of the elephant reflects the way America tries to take care of the world.” But featured French-Thai actress Florence Faivre is a knockout, and DP Diego Quemada-Diez was clearly hot to expose film while adrift in the ocean of party lights. Equivalent to a crummy band with a monster of a drummer who convinces you to stay for the whole show anyways. (Sunset 5) (Nick Pinkerton)


FRONTRUNNERS The great American student-government election: Teenagers exposing their fragile egos to public ballot-box rejection and spending a small fortune on poster board, all for the possible distinction of assigning Homecoming subcommittees and allocating school funds for a laminator. This is the stuff of which Frontrunners is made. Caroline Suh’s doc exists somewhere between Robert Drew’s Primary and reality TV, following the 2007 election cycle at New York City’s cream-of-the-crop Stuyvesant High School, where the student (busy)body is made up of potential valedictorians from every borough. That the student-government “popularity contest” is a microcosm of the adult political arena is an old saw — see Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s perennially quoted “High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of.” To that idea we owe primary-season think pieces recasting Alexander Payne’s Election with Barack and Hillary, as well as Frontrunners’ savvy election-eve release date. Tactfully avoiding actual policy details and emotionally sticky stuff, cutting for punch lines, and overlaying campaigning montages with a playlist shuffle of kazoo-whimsical indie feyness, Suh shows herself ever-happy to settle for the shallow rewards of pop documentary here. Depending on your level of fatigue with The Other Campaign, this may be good enough. (Nuart) (Nick Pinkerton)

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THE GAY BED & BREAKFAST OF TERROR The Gay Bed & Breakfast of Terror delivers on its title, with less subtlety. An opening musical number titled “Watch Out for the Straights!” sets the tone. (Heterosexual sins: driving sedans, bad hair.) Writer-director Jaymes Thompson aims five incredibly generic gay/lesbian couples (plus one token obese hag) at the titular venue, only to have them picked off by Jesus-crazed freaks. Since slasher movies are famously obsessed with picking off copulating straight teens and minorities, consider this a counterstrike. The big idea here is that mother Helen (Mari Marks) wants to convert a gay man to marry her lesbian daughter Luella (Georgia Jean), redeeming two sins at once. So the crazed, hypocritical, lustful and ugly woman — and her repressed offspring — get pitted against 10 fine specimens of urbane, all-queer-all-the-time stereotype, whose only real interests are being fabulous and fashionable. You could argue that this is just gay camp taken to its extreme, but then what’s with the shrieking drag queen screaming, “Why are all the beautiful people gay?” There’s no joking here, only a sincere belief that anyone who isn’t a sophisticated urban queer is a mouth-breathing Reagan fanatic panting to give a homosexual beat down. (Sunset 5) (Vadim Rizov)

GOD AND GAYS: BRIDGING THE GAP Actress turned director Luane Beck is not the first to pusheth thy hot button on the subject of reconciliation between homosexuality and religion, but worse than being a mere late­comer, her God and Gays: Bridging the Gap arrives after documentaries like For the Bible Tells Me So and Trembling Before G-d have already mined the material with greater sagacity. Is being gay a choice? Does a gay agenda exist? Can someone lead an LGBT lifestyle and a holy one? These aren’t new or particularly profound questions today, though the film addresses them as if it were breaking new ground, which soon reeks of vanity project. Strolling down the boardwalk, Beck walks hand in hand with her real-life partner and producer, Kim Clark, pretentiously reenacting conversations they’ve had about their own spiritual grapplings. The Rev. Deborah L. Johnson, an out lesbian who officiated their partnership, proves the only enlightened speaker in their hideously shot gallery of dry talking heads, but as soon as her arguments get meaty (Is love the same as sexuality? Could biblical condemnation of gays stem from mis-translation, or is it simply an outmoded text that was never meant to be taken as directive?), Beck skimps on the follow-up queries. Most of the interviews are strictly anecdotal — memories of personal triumph or loss that might provide catharsis to those in similar roles — but with so much political controversy in the air, this is a missed opportunity of Religulous proportions. (Grande 4-Plex) (Aaron Hillis)

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