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Movie Reviews: Fanboys, The Pink Panther 2, Push 

Also, Crips and Bloods, Luck by Chance and the 2008 Academy Award-Nominated Shorts

Thursday, Feb 12 2009
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GO ABSURDISTAN A droll comic fable about a water shortage, a battle of the sexes and the teenage lovers caught in the middle, Absurdistan doesn’t have a ton of high-voltage laughs, but it’s a nonstop charm machine. Living in a remote, tiny village in the hinterlands between Europe and Asia, Aya (Kristýna Maléová) and Temelko (Maximilian Mauff) long to consummate their relationship, but vow to wait until a date suggested by Aya’s astrologist grandmother — four years in the future. When the day comes, though, Absurdistan’s desert community is suffering from a drought brought on by a decaying irrigation pipe, which the community’s lazy male population refuses to fix. So Aya organizes a female sex strike until the menfolk remedy the situation. The resulting gender war and Temelko’s attempts to bring water to Absurdistan are decidedly low-stakes affairs, but director Veit Helmer (Tuvalu) is more interested in crafting a gently amusing modern-day folktale in which the happy ending is assured from the first moment Aya and Temelko beam at one another. As demonstrated by the film’s low-grade special effects, Absurdistan makes a virtue out of modest, handmade storytelling without falling prey to cutesy self-indulgence, and Helmer gets astounding comic mileage out of the loutish stupidity of the village’s very hairy men. (Nuart) (Tim Grierson)

BLESSED IS THE MATCH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF HANNAH SENESH Hannah Senesh, the ardent young socialist-Zionist who emigrated from Budapest to Palestine and was tortured and killed by the Nazis for parachuting into Hungary to stimulate Jewish resistance, has become such a sainted Joan of Arc to Israelis that it’s a relief to watch her scaled down into a flawed woman (of enormous bravery) here. Based on a memoir by Senesh’s mother, Roberta Grossman’s film is an ungainly hybrid of straight-up documentary and ingenuous re-enactment. Grossman smartly shifts the focus from the parachutist’s derring-do to the bizarre sequence of events by which, held in the same prison, Senesh and her mother managed to communicate with one another and buoy the spirits of other prisoners. Senesh had a soulful side — she wrote the poem, “Eli, Eli,” which became the famous Holocaust song — but, like many people of outstanding public courage, she was less adept at private life. To her regret, she never had a lover, and one of her surviving fellow partisans frankly admits that he found more in her to admire than to like. Senesh’s fortitude, and her intransigent refusal to beg for her life at the end, raise complicated questions about heroism, as Anglo-Jewish historian Martin Gilbert underscores when he asks what counts as failure in the context of the Holocaust. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

CHOCOLATE The world may not have needed a Thai-language martial arts hybrid of Kill Bill and Rain Man, but, by God, it has one now. Already chopped into countless snippets and strewn across YouTube, director Prachya Pinkaew’s followup to the mighty Muay Thai epics Ong-Bak and The Protector offers more of everything: more score-settling for the West’s Asian-action culture thievery; more maudlin interludes; and more knees, fists and elbows to the skull than the oeuvres of Bruce Lee and Vince McMahon combined. In place of his former leading man Tony Jaa, Pinkaew offers instant action-hero JeeJa Yanin as an autistic girl who instinctively apes the fights she sees in movies and video games. When her ex–moll mom develops cancer, the girl goes collecting on old debts to pay for her treatment — and if you can stop goggling at the tasteless premise, the formula of a slight, scrawny chick pulverizing brawny thugs never loses its fist-pumping appeal. Though the plot just lets Pinkaew restage the same fight over and over on different sets, let it also be said that they get bigger and better each time — culminating in a neck-snapping, head-busting, leg-twisting, gravity-defying free-for-all played out on ledges high above a city street. This is backyard wrestling as cinema, and you can judge for yourself if that’s a recommendation or a warning. (Memo to Magnolia Pictures’ genre-movie subsidiary Magnet, which also put out the excellent Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In: More, please.) (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

click to enlarge FIRST RUN FEATURES - Absurdistan
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MADE IN AMERICA Why is there so much violence in South L.A.? What are the historical roots of the Bloods and Crips? Stacy Peralta’s documentary Made in America employs hip-hop beats and music-video aesthetics (quick edits, slick cinematography, artful use of still photography) to answer those twined questions. With narration by Forest Whitaker, Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys, Riding Giants) turns his cameras on former and current gang members who outline the origins of gangs (one starting point: the once-racist policies of the Boy Scouts, which forced young black males to form makeshift youth groups of their own), the evolution of the gangs, their role in the civil-rights movement of the ’60s, and the American government’s hand in turning Bloods and Crips from community activists into community scourge. It’s a lot to take in, and Peralta does an admirable job cramming tons of history and insight into his reportage on how the “’hood” came to be. Made in America is fueled by his palpable frustration and unapologetic lefty sympathizing, which is the film’s strength. Its failure to really address the role of economic policies and job loss is a glaring weakness, however, underscoring not only a crucial information deficit but also Peralta’s real-life remove from his own subject matter. Those unfamiliar with the subject matter should use Made in America as the gateway film to check out the superior All Power to the People and Bastards of the Party. The latter, directed by former Blood Cle “Bone” Sloan, is the raw, underground joint to Peralta’s pop opus. (Sunset 5) (Ernest Hardy)

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