Movie Reviews: Land of the Lost, My Life in Ruins, Pressure Cooker 

Also, Corked!, Downloading Nancy and more

Wednesday, Jun 3 2009

CORKED! With their loose-limbed naturalness and improvisational flair, the best mockumentaries, from The Office to This Is Spinal Tap, feel so effortless that they create the false impression that anybody can do it. Sadly, too many indie filmmakers take the bait, with the latest victim being Corked!, a lightly amusing but entirely too flimsy satire of the Sonoma County wine scene. Written and directed by Ross Clendenen and Paul Hawley, Corked! doesn’t tell a story so much as it strings together a lightly connected series of bits concerning typical mockumentary characters: the uptight snob riddled with insecurities (Clendenen); the arrogant and clueless blowhard marketing whizzes (Ben Tolpin and Rob Reinis); and, for the Reno 911! crowd, a mentally disturbed cop (Martina Finch) drunk on her own power. Due to its episodic nature, Corked! resembles a lot of comedy albums where part of the fun comes from the anticipation of finding out if the next segment is brilliant or truly dreadful. But with Corked!, you can’t just fast-forward to the next funny sequence, and since this movie’s success rate is only about 30 percent, you’re left with a lot of stretches that are far from effortless to sit through. (Downtown Independent Theater) (Tim Grierson)

THE COUNTRY TEACHER The solemn new addition to the tiny elementary school faculty in a rural Czech outpost gets off to a heavily symbolic start by turning his pupils on to the glorious diversity of nature — a measure not just of how badly he needs to leap out of the closet but what an open book this movie will be. Given the baby steps currently being taken into gay-themed cinema in Central and Eastern Europe, one wants to look kindly on any movie that won Best Queer Film at the Reykjavik Film Festival last year. And there’s something undeniably fresh about a coming-out story set among animals a-borning and flowers a-blooming rather than a gay bar with support from wisecracking drag queens. But this sweetly ingenuous film, written and directed by Bohdan Sláma, is a lot less sentimental about cows and flowers than it is about its human protagonists, who fall dominolike in love with churls who won’t love them back. Zuzana Bydzovská is very good as the mother of a sullenly beautiful boy with whom the teacher falls in love, but Pavel Liska plays the hapless pedagogue with a long-faced saintliness that leads us to hope in vain for situation comedy. Instead, following one truly risky scene, we get more natural rebirth, and the damp discovery that romantic love may be for the birds, but people will always need people. (Nuart) (Ella Taylor)

DOWNLOADING NANCY “Life is like being trapped in the wrong house, looking for a way out,” says Nancy (an excruciatingly believable Maria Bello) in this film’s first moments. A stranger she’s met in an s/m chat room, named Louis “Deep Pain” Farley (Jason Patric), has promised Nancy the torture-’n’-sex release she yearns for, so off she goes to her fate, leaving her clueless husband of 15 years (Rufus Sewell) a note saying that she’s staying with friends, and abandoning viewers to the brutal, agonizing transactions between the film’s three main characters. Nancy’s overriding resolve dominates this story: Nothing will get in the way of her dream death — neither the love she and Louis come to share, nor his attempts to abandon their arrangement. Downloading Nancy is a triumph for the actors, particularly Bello; the harsh lighting, handheld camera, and schizoid electronic soundtrack sink us further into a sense of vertigo and despair. But the jump cuts and nonlinear narrative are gratuitously stylish, and when you peel away this film’s complex performances, at the core of its drawn-out suicide spectacle is pain so extreme, so alienating, and, in the end, so pointless. (Sunset 5) (Elena Oumano)

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LAND OF THE LOST Notwithstanding all the boomer studio executives who grow misty-eyed recollecting nerdy childhoods parked in front of the Krofft brothers’ television creation, it’s hard to think of a compelling reason to remake the popular 1970s sci-fi adventure show for the big screen. Brad Silberling’s amiable big puppy of an update has Will Ferrell running at half-speed as an insecure, has-been paleontologist who finds himself lost in time and space with the usual nebbishy Wizard of Oz sidekicks — charming Anna Friel as his fearless assistant, a very funny Danny McBride as a trailer-trash survivalist, and Jorma Taccone as an oversexed Neanderthal. All the while, weird creatures with manga eyes try to get their scaly claws on a time-traveling gizmo that plays gay show tunes far too often to sustain the joke. Like so many nominally child-oriented movies these days, Land of the Lost gets its knickers in such a twist trying to curry favor with several demographics at once — gross-out gags for the nippers, scary dinosaurs for the pimply boys, and a modicum of wit to keep parental bums in seats — that it ends up sagging into a pleasantly undistinguished pudding. The big news is that Matt Lauer, playing himself, can act. A little. Hardly at all, really. But he’s a jolly good sport, and quite handy with a fire extinguisher. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)

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