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Movie Reviews: Death In Love, 500 Days of Summer, Severed Ways 

Also, The Poker House, The Queen and I, and more

Wednesday, Jul 15 2009
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DEATH IN LOVE
On the heels of his promising 1994 indie debut Fresh, Boaz Yakin delivered a hatefully stacked deck against Orthodox Jewry with A Price Above Rubies (1998). Then he went to Hollywood, and, by his own self-lacerating account, sold out. As it turns out, the workmanlike Uptown Girls and Remember the Titans were masterpieces of cinema compared with this misbegotten retreat into self-financed auteurism. Not since Liliana Cavani’s epically stupid The Night Porter has a filmmaker so wantonly ripped off the Holocaust for the unsavory purpose of strutting his unprocessed sadomasochistic fantasies. Yakin is a slick director of actors, which means that Jacqueline Bisset and Josh Lucas are disconcertingly good as a New York Jewish mother destroyed by a long-ago concentration camp affair with a Nazi doctor, and the charming but feckless son poisoned by her baleful influence. Masquerading as brave provocation, Death in Love is an incoherent stew of twisted sex, diabolical surgery, existential despair and oedipal rage, punctured by feeble excursions into genre with the absurd arrival of an elderly stranger given to throwing men off tall buildings. Someday, a wise and potent film will be made about the Holocaust’s legacy on succeeding generations. Posing as a study in evil, Death in Love is claptrap that confuses bile with art. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

GO (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
Seemingly similar to most factory-made rom-coms, former music-video director Marc Webb’s first feature is actually far less interested in the will-they-or-won’t-they and more concerned with the why-can’t-they. Its lovers — Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom and Zooey Deschanel’s Summer, natch — are perfect for each other, yet are perhaps still not meant to be. He is forever in search of his soulmate, influenced by too much mid-’80s Britpop and an incorrect reading of The Graduate’s finale. She insists she’s looking only for a commitment-free good time, no doubt the result of a childhood spent being the object of everyone’s affection. Webb, working from a screenplay by the men responsible for The Pink Panther 2, employs a storytelling gimmick to render his movie palatably unconventional. The director introduces us to Tom and Summer mid-breakup, then takes us back to the moment when they share their first glance, then back and forth and back and forth and beyond, till each glimpse is recontextualized and thus reconsidered. Very Sundance-y. But the real surprise of (500) Days of Summer isn’t the presentation — this isn’t exactly Steven Soderbergh or Alejandro González Iñárritu territory here. It’s more like a love story in a blender. What is unexpected is the sincerity beneath the modest conceit that, yup, love hurts. (AMC Century 15; The Landmark; Arclight Hollywood; The Grove) (Robert Wilonsky)

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HOMECOMING
Either director Morgan J. Freeman (Hurricane, DesertBlue) has said his piece on the subject of young-adult dysfunction, or he’s just a hack for hire on this creaky boilerplate of a bad seed thriller, written by Katie L. Fetting with a seemingly insatiable appetite (“Look what you made me do”) for genre cliché. If nothing else, Homecoming should effectively squelch any movie-star ambition on the part of Mischa Barton, though the camera is more than usually attentive to her cleavage. Barton alternately glares and simpers as Shelby, a small-town barkeep so incensed by the return of her ex (Matt Long) with his shiny new girlfriend (Jessica Stroup) that she will stop at nothing — nothing! — to repossess her athlete hero. Glued together with shards from much better movies, the humorless plot offers no mystery about who’s doing what to whom, or why. Behind every bad girl is a rotten mother; beneath every good girl is a vengeful tiger; and I’d call misogyny were it not for the fact that the script takes such a dim view of all the characters, including the drippy object of the catfight, a hometown hero so dull of wit and void of spark that you have to wonder why the ladies bothered in the first place. (Sunset 5) (Ella Taylor)

THE POKER HOUSE
Old wounds run deep through the gritty directorial debut of actress Lori Petty. The Poker House tells the story of Agnes (Jennifer Lawrence), a sardonic teenager explicitly based on Petty, who behaves like Juno tossed into darker, more realistic settings. Agnes and her younger sisters Bee and Cammie reside in the eponymous whorehouse together with their strung-out mother (Selma Blair in a performance precariously poised on the edge of camp), presided over by pimp Duval (an excellent Bokeem Woodbine). For all its claims to stark realism, the film alternates schizophrenically between romance, melodrama, black comedy and blacker tragedy, playing like a fragmented reel of Petty’s childhood memories. The first hour follows the three sisters through a day in their bleak lives, spiced up occasionally by quirky characters such as co-writer David Alan Grier’s incomprehensibly strange local drunk. Despite the jumbled structure and tone, Petty avoids most of the artistic flourishes that sidetrack many indie debuts — save for some desperately poetic narration from Agnes. The film’s final third abandons the two younger sisters to focus on a tragic turning point in Agnes’ life, and almost redeems the pedestrian hour which precedes it. The Poker House is one of the most personal, wounded films in years. That it is also one of the most confused reflects how deeply it springs from the psyche of its director. (Monica 4-Plex) (John Wheeler)

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