Movie Reviews: The End of the Line, The Proposal, Whatever Works 

Also, Daytime Drinking, Irene in Time and more

Wednesday, Jun 17 2009

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THE NARROWS Tatiana Blackington’s screenplay may have been adapted from Tim McLoughlin’s 2001 novel, Heart of the Old Country, but director François A. Velle’s pulpy coming-of-ager fleetingly resembles any number of New York crime dramas, and you, too, can play along: Growing up in Bay Ridge, sensitive tough-kid Mike Manadoro (Kevin Zegers) is taken under the wing of the local Brooklyn mob boss (ahem, GoodFellas!), much to the dismay of his father (A Bronx Tale!). His loyalties are tested after he vouches for his self-destructive childhood friend (Mean Streets!), an Afghani war hero with a pregnant wife and a heroin habit. But Mike is ultimately torn between his shady duties and his artistic pursuit (Fingers!) as a photographer, taking college courses in Manhattan, where he further complicates his dramatic arc by cheating on his girlfriend with a pretty classmate (Sophia Bush), a woman his family wouldn’t approve of (A Bronx Tale again!). Serviceably enjoyable like cold pizza but little more, The Narrows is well-acted (though it could use more heavy hitters to match Vincent D’Onofrio’s charisma as Mike’s small-time bookie dad), and the post-gentrification NYC details are on the nose. Why does every car-service operator insist it’ll only take five minutes, anyway? (Mann Chinese 6) (A.H.)

GO  $9.99 The stop-motion animated puppets in Tatia Rosenthal’s beguiling first feature look like clay-mated slabs of glazed meat, at once unreal and hyper-real. Which makes them perfect carriers of the off-kilter existentialism of Etgar Keret, who co-wrote the screenplay for $9.99 with Rosenthal, based on his own short stories. With Keret you never know where laughter ends and heartbreak begins, and so it is with these lost souls (voiced by Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia and other luminaries of this Israeli-Australian co-production), who keep colliding in a naturalistically evoked apartment building that could be found in any warm-climate city, whether Tel Aviv, Sydney or Los Angeles. Their gait is stiff, but they’re tormented by the full range of emotional incompleteness, from shame to lust to longing to confusion to plain old weariness with the struggle to stay afloat. There’s more fun than mawkishness, though, in the underachiever who evades his fiancée’s demands by cavorting with 2-inch-high frat boys; the suicidal (maybe) Guardian Angel (maybe) who’d rather be anywhere but here; the penthouse hottie who likes her men absolutely hairless; and the 20-something who seeks solace in a $10 life manual because his loving, single father has no time to listen. The cut-rate how-to proves more potent than you’d think, which says something wise and wonderful about the way the material world can hold out ridiculous but transcendent spiritual release. I’m not revealing how, but let’s just say that $9.99 doesn’t end like that other movie about “the pursuit of happyness,” and all the better for it. (Nuart) (Ella Taylor)

THE PROPOSAL Starring Sandra Bullock as the publishing-house boss who blackmails her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) into marrying her, lest she face deportation to Canada, this is nothing but a faint echo of its myriad predecessors, which are too numerous to name. You know every tinny beat and false note by heart, from the implausible setup to the sprint-to-the-airport finish. The Proposal, in fact, appears to have been written using a secret cache of computers stored beneath Walt Disney HQ since 1978 — code name “Pete Chiarelli,” the first-time screenwriter who receives credit for having pilfered every rom-com convention since the invention of breathing. (It was directed by Anne Fletcher, who stitched together 27 Dresses out of the leftover scraps not used here.) Or, perhaps, it’s the product of a book of MadLibs in which spaces are left blank for The Handsome Male Ingénue Specializing in Cocked Eyebrows, The Former Rom-com It-Girl on Comeback Trail Who Looks 10 Years Younger Than Her Age, and The Ex–Golden Girl as Dirty-Minded Grandmother. Already filled in: Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen as The Parents and Malin Akerman as The One Who Got Away. And there you have it: HBO instaclassic! “Here comes the bribe,” utters the poster’s tag line. Genius. Such great minds. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

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GO  SEX POSITIVE First-time filmmaker Daryl Wein wasn’t even born when AIDS was first recognized by the CDC in 1981, but his documentary on Richard Berkowitz, one of the initial advocates of safe sex, does a good job of capturing (though, dizzyingly, not always with a tripod) the internecine struggles among gay activists, which played out on Manhattan public-access TV and in the pages of the New York Native during the first years of the pandemic. It helps that Wein’s subject is such a fascinating, garrulous paradox: Berkowitz, co-author with singer Michael Callen of the 1983 pamphlet How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach, was an s/m-top hustler who insisted, much to the horror of Larry Kramer and others outraged by what they considered a loaded term, that “promiscuity” contributed to the transmission of AIDS among gay men. For all his passion and commitment, Berkowitz, diagnosed with AIDS in 1995, seems to have a special talent for flaming out, losing several years to crack addiction and now living on disability checks and handouts from former clients. As one of the namesakes of NYC’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Callen, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1993, has reached near-saint status; Berkowitz candidly admits to battling a more ignominious legacy: “If you do a Google search on me, I’m tied in with all these lunatics.” (Sunset 5) (Melissa Anderson)

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