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Movie Reviews: An American Affair, Phoebe in Wonderland, 12 

Also, Between Love & Goodbye, Toyo's Camera and more

Wednesday, Mar 4 2009
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SHUTTLE Next time, spring for a cab. Sadly, there may not be a next time for two young women and three men whose ride home on an L.A. airport shuttle (blue, but definitely not Super) goes hellishly awry. Lifelong friends Mel (Peyton List) and Jules (Cameron Goodman) and two horny guys they met in baggage claim (James Snyder and Dave Power) jump aboard a discount shuttle along with a mousy businessman (Cullen Douglas). Soon, the driver (Tony Curran) pulls a gun, straps everyone in with seat belts that can’t be unfastened, and heads for an industrial part of town where there’s nary a car or cop in sight. First-time writer-director Edward Anderson piles on the plot twists, some of them clever and surprising, though there isn’t much joy in the telling. As shot by cinematographer Michael Fimognari, the interior of the shuttle is sometimes too dark to make out the action, and the film runs long. Still, the well-acted third act is effectively intense, if maddeningly illogical. But hey, we don’t go to these movies for logic, do we? (Sunset 5) (Chuck Wilson)

STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI “Sometimes you must stand up when standing is not easy,” goes the movie’s mantra (or something to that effect); most viewers will come away replacing “stand” with “throw.” It’s been 15 years since the first (and one presumed incorrectly, last) adaptation of the Street Fighter video game, and the fumes are only now leaving theaters. Proving that there’s no statute of limitations on lousy ideas, director Andrzej Bartkowiak’s attempted franchise expansion returns to the Capcom motherlode that produced the worst movie in the entire Jean-Claude Van Damme filmography. Playing a classical pianist who evidently studied with Harvey Keitel in Fingers, Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk stars as the bereft daughter who channels her rage against the world’s evildoers — starting with the blue-eyed devil (Neal McDonough) who’s secretly holding her father hostage. Her vigilantism is sorely needed, given what passes for law enforcement in the movie’s crime-ridden Bangkok: a glamourpuss detective (Moon Bloodgood) whose deductive powers stop at observing, “Something’s going down!” when hundreds of people flee a nightclub, and a stubbly Interpol agent played by that international man of mystery, American Pie’s Chris Klein. Idiot plotting and dialogue are what you’d expect from a genre that typically rewards narrative development with a skip function. But the rote fight scenes are a disappointment: Fans will get far bigger kicks (and highs) out of the ka-razy Thai import Chocolate — although the appealing Kreuk invests even the movie’s Miyagi-speak with feeling. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

GO  TOYO’S CAMERA Among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans shipped to internment camps in 1943 on FDR’s orders was established photographer Toyo Miyatake. Behind barbed wire at Manzanar, Miyatake cobbled together a camera from a smuggled lens and chronicled a microcosm of cramped communal living (undivided cabins, row toilets) and small-town American activity (a basketball team that beat all comers). Equally concerned with the internment experience as with packing in as many Miyatake snaps as possible, Toyo’s Camera is more of a historical backgrounder and act of remembrance than an in-depth study of the photographer. (The Ansel Adams contemporary, who died 30 years ago, had a flourishing studio in Little Tokyo, where the Michio Ito dance company, Hideko Takamine and other visiting notables posed.) Despite the still-jaw-dropping facts of this history, the hale ex-internees interviewed by director Junichi Suzuki lend a respect-inducing calm, as if echoing shikata ga nai (“can’t be helped”) stoicism. Miyatake’s photos bring out ordinary camp dwellers’ resilience, though the spartan backgrounds, harsh desert glare and shadows at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas loom as reminders. Bumpy transitions and organization, along with New Age composer Kitaro’s temperamental soundtrack, prevent a sense of polish, but this Japanese-produced doc, which includes Reagan’s 1988 reparations, testifies with dignity and restraint. (Monica 4-Plex) (Nicolas Rapold)

click to enlarge Harvard Beats Yale 29-29: Al Gore’s ex–dorm mate tells all.
  • Harvard Beats Yale 29-29: Al Gore’s ex–dorm mate tells all.

GO  12 Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2008, Russian actor-director Nikita Mikhalkov’s masterful, engrossing 12 is finally finding its way into theaters. A revamp of 12 Angry Men set in post-communist Moscow, 12 takes some liberties with both the original material and its new setting: The jury is now deciding the fate of a Chechen youth accused of murdering his adoptive father, a Russian officer, and the story adheres to the pretext of a unanimous vote, although the Russian system does not require it. Despite the abridgment of the title, however, Mikhalkov’s updated jury doesn’t include females — various sectors of modern Russian society are uniformly represented by late-middle-aged males, with Mikhalkov himself playing the foreman. It’s a fitting choice in that the working men, despite having adapted to both “democratic forces” and capitalism, also embody Russia’s past; over the course of a remarkably fleet 159-minutes, each one shares how that past has shaped him and his perspective on a case loaded with nationalist baggage. Miklahkov keeps 12 tops spinning at all times in the school gymnasium, which serves as their deliberation room, and though the speech/conversion pattern grows a little pat, the movement toward consensus raises the further, richly complicated question of how to decide not only what is right but what is best. (Royal; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Michelle Orange)

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