Movie Reviews: Amreeka, Gamer, The Headless Woman | Film Reviews | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Movie Reviews: Amreeka, Gamer, The Headless Woman 

Also, Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-ItchyFooted Mutha and more

Wednesday, Sep 2 2009

GO  ALL ABOUT STEVE In this refreshingly quirky comedy, Sandra Bullock is Mary Horowitz, a Sacramento crossword-puzzle writer who’s geeky and hyperactive and generally too much to bear. When her parents fix her up with a handsome cable-news cameraman named Steve (Bradley Cooper), Mary pounces, but quickly scares him away with talk of “destiny.” Undeterred, she begins following Steve and a washed-up reporter (Thomas Haden Church) as they head across America, covering ratings grabbers such as a baby with three legs and a mine-shaft cave-in that has stranded a dozen hearing-impaired children. Writer Kim Barker (License to Wed) and first-time director Phil Traill aren’t afraid of big jokes (deaf kids down a well), but they also pay attention to the small details of character. As if to suggest that Mary finds solace in a nerd-friendlier time, her bedroom décor is strictly 1969-70, while her much-discussed go-go boots are a seeming nod to the goofy brainiac Barbra Streisand portrayed in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970). Although Bullock initially struggles with a character she’s probably too old to play, she ultimately makes Mary funny and sympathetic without softening her innate weirdness. The actress also earns points for daring to co-produce a Hollywood comedy that isn’t about a wedding. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

GO  AMREEKA The thriving subgenre of immigrant displacement dramedy gets a confident new spin from Cherien Dabis, a Palestinian-Jordanian raised in the United States. Divorced, demoralized and struggling with her weight, Palestinian bank employee Muna (a very good Nisreen Faour) leaves the occupied West Bank with her teenage son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), to find a new home with her sister (The Visitor’s Hiam Abbass) in Chicago. The discovery that she has exchanged one set of checkpoints for another doesn’t prevent Muna — an archetypical maternal survivor straight out of Italian neorealism — from buckling down to the business of survival in a culture whose traditional mistrust of dark-skinned foreigners is exacerbated by 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Dabis concedes only subtitles to Western sensitivities — the perspective is firmly with the newcomers, whose dialogue switches on a dime from Arabic to English, signaling the constant juggling every acclimating migrant must undertake. But there’s nothing bitter or cynical about Amreeka, which is directed with impish wit, an observant visual competence, and an open, conciliatory spirit (Muna befriends her son’s Jewish teacher) that embraces the marginality Arabs and Jews share in common. (The Landmark; ArcLight Hollywood) (Ella Taylor)

CONFESSIONS OF AN EX-DOOFUS-ITCHYFOOTED MUTHA In Melvin Van Peebles’ homely home-video-art love-story curio, incorporating fragments of his 1982 stage musical Waltz of the Stork, the 70-something star-writer-director plays the lead role, from age 15 to 45, opposite actors who are, in every case, younger. This makes the scenes of teenage sexual discovery particularly eyebrow-raising. Like practically everything in the movie, the device only really “works” on a theoretical level, though it’s transfixing for a time, in a strange and slightly sad way. Van Peebles’ unnamed protagonist narrates back on his life, from middle age, talking over re-enactments of his runaway from Chicago (“Itchyfoot” meaning wanderlust), escape from gangsters, Harlem domesticity, oat sowing and pirate fighting with the Merchant Marines, gigoloing and a courtier gig in royal Africa. The film has a footling kind of style, emptying the whole after-effects toolbox of weird wipes, superimpositions and solarizations. There’s little concession to period detail in blithely anachronistic street scenes, and the art direction is not much more than one would expect from a backyard eighth-grade production. There’s a temptation to “give” this to Van Peebles, but any scene in which actors get to interact is deathly awkward, and 100 minutes should never feel this long. (Music Hall) (Nick Pinkerton)

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THE FINAL DESTINATION Fatality lurks around every ceiling fan, shampoo bottle and espresso machine in the fourth entry in New Line Cinema’s improbably long-running death-by-misadventure franchise, focused on yet another group of friends who narrowly escape a catastrophic accident only to learn the hard way that when your number’s up, it really is up. The Grim Reaper seems to have taken a hit from the lean economic times, judging from The Final Destination’s el cheapo Canada-as-Anytown, USA, production values and sub–One Tree Hill cast; but as usual, all that is merely fuel for the series’ signature domino-effect death scenes, here rendered in shlock-o-riffic 3-D by director David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2, Snakes On a Plane), bringing all manner of bodily impalement and dismemberment as close as the butter on your popcorn. Ellis and screenwriter Eric Bress even go all meta on us with an Inglourious Basterds–esque finale set inside a 3D cinema, though their set pieces never quite muster the giddy brio of Final Destination 1 and 3 auteur James Wong at his best. They come close, however, in what I’m fairly certain is the silver screen’s first episode of pool-drain disembowelment. And to think, people say there are no fresh ideas in Hollywood. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

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