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Movie Reviews: Adoration, Julia, Little Ashes, Revanche 

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Wednesday, May 6 2009
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ADORATION Atom Egoyan’s 12th feature film offers a typically kaleidoscopic rumination on voyeurism, videography, the relative nature of truth, and the aftermath of tragedy, closer in form and tone to the Canadian auteur’s early work (particularly his 1987 masterpiece, Family Viewing) than to his erratic recent literary adaptations (Felicia’s Journey, Where the Truth Lies). Egoyan’s wife and frequent muse, Arsinée Khanjian, occupies the central role here as a high school French and drama teacher who encourages a bright pupil (Devon Bostick) in an elaborate fabrication. Inspired by a classroom translation of a news article about a Jordanian man who attempted to blow up a commercial airliner with a bomb hidden in his pregnant girlfriend’s luggage, the boy claims the story as that of his own deceased parents — a lie that quickly goes viral and takes on even more bizarre dimensions when the teacher (for reasons Egoyan holds close to the vest for most of the running time), disguised in a face-covering burka, pays a house call on her student and his blue-collar uncle (an excellent Scott Speedman). Never short on ambition, Adoration has no lack of interesting things to say or interesting ways to say them, but the longer it runs, the more you feel Egoyan working up a sweat to deploy the same effects — Pinterian abstractions, fractured timelines, shifting points of view — that he once made seem effortless. The end result is a movie considerably more absorbing to talk, write and think about afterward than it is to actually watch. (Landmark; Town Center 5; Playhouse 7) (Scott Foundas)

GO  JULIA Tilda Swinton doesn’t merely act the title role in French director Erick Zonca’s Julia — she devours it, spits it back up, dances giddily upon it, twirls it in the air. It’s a big, all-consuming performance, and in the hands of a lesser actress and filmmaker, it might have consumed the movie, too. But Julia is nearly as electric as its heroine, a leggy, vodka-guzzling tart in false eyelashes and cheap sequined gowns who tells men she can make their dreams come true, and who can, provided those dreams involve parking-lot sex and sunlight-blasted mornings after. The key to Swinton’s performance (and to the movie) is that she’s playing an actress — not a professional one, but a wily, desperate woman under the influence who adapts herself to what each new situation calls for, sometimes well, sometimes badly, but always with every fiber of her being. Her faces are many, including the eerie black death mask she wears when she agrees to help her unstable Mexican neighbor (the superb Kate del Castillo) kidnap her young son from the clutches of his wealthy grandfather. It’s a crackpot scheme made more so by Julia’s half-cocked attempt to secure herself a bigger share of the ransom money, and by the time the movie winds its way from Los Angeles to Tijuana, one kidnapping gives way to another with no end in sight. Directing his first theatrical feature in the decade since the neo-Bressonian The Dreamlife of Angels, Zonca tips his hat to the entire John Cassavetes oeuvre while crafting a messy, nervy and frequently exhilarating thriller that operates on instinct rather than plot and features richly pulpy dialogue by Zonca and co-screenwriter Aude Py. Jeered upon its premiere at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival and only now receiving a token U.S. release, Julia demands to be reassessed and reckoned with. (Sunset 5; Monica 4-Plex) (Scott Foundas)

LITTLE ASHES Hoping to expand his fan base beyond Twilight-loving tween girls to Chelsea twinks, alabaster beauty Robert Pattinson plays bi-curious Salvador Dalí in this silly portrayal of the 1920s Madrid university days of the painter and his pals, gay poet/playwright Federico García Lorca and gay-bashing Luis Buñuel. Written by first-time scripter Philippa Goslett, Little Ashes (named after one of Dalí’s paintings) is a typically bombastic lives-of-the-artists production made even more stilted by having all the actors (including the Spanish ones) speak accented English; the first several minutes contain so much Castilian overlisping that someone surely must have sprained a tongue. Pattinson — first presented as a twitchy weirdo in ruffled pirate shirts and hairdos reminiscent of Antony Hegarty’s before a fantastic sartorial makeover featuring costume designer Antonio Belart’s pick of excellent sweater vests — has difficulty conveying cracked genius, at one point seeming to mimic Jame Gumb’s prance in front of the mirror in The Silence of the Lambs, until settling on just bugging his eyes out. Though Dalí’s first smooch with García Lorca (Javier Beltrán), in the phosphorescent waters of Cadaqués, is steamy, the pleasures of man-on-man love — and the movie — evaporate quickly when the wildly ambitious painter announces, “I’ll bring Paris to its knees!” after he’s conflicted about being on his. (Sunset 5; Monica 4-Plex; Town Center 5; Playhouse 7) (Melissa Anderson)

click to enlarge Revanche
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