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Movie Reviews: Fame, Pandorum, Surrogates 

Also, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, The Most Dangerous Man in America and more

Wednesday, Sep 23 2009
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THE BLUE TOOTH VIRGIN or anyone who has ever hated a movie because it’s too “arty” or “edgy,” here comes The Blue Tooth Virgin to agree with you and argue that anything remotely nonpopulist is crap. David (Bryce Johnson) is a successful magazine editor; his friend, Sam (Austin Peck), is a screenwriter whose career has stalled after a “critically acclaimed” one-season TV show (critical praise = kiss of death). Sam has written a screenplay about a woman who morphs into different people, aided by a hermaphrodite shrink and a mute detective. In case we don’t get that this is pretentious bullshit, Sam mentions how much he likes Bergman’s Persona. Later, to hammer it home, he admits that he’s been trying to be a cooler person by succumbing to peer pressure by seeing “art films” and listening “to certain bands that actually suck.” It’s true: Everything that isn’t popular is terrible! David discusses the script with a neighbor: “What’s it about?” “I don’t know.” “Are there characters?” “I’m not sure.” “Well, it sounds like an indie film.” OOH, BURN. Now, how will David tell Sam his script sucks? Comedy! To make sure this his whole endeavor doesn’t turn into something approaching “arty”/”edgy,” writer-director Russell Brown makes it like a dreary sitcom. This is self-vindicating L.A. narcissism that tries even less hard than usual. (Music Hall) (Vadim Rizov)

THE BOYS ARE BACK In the Oscar derby for Best Actor, is it better to die or to grieve? Clive Owen opts for the latter route in this strained, sentimental adaptation of a memoir by widowed English journalist Simon Carr. His 2001 book — boozy, breezy and thoroughly unsystematic — was a precursor to the new laissez-faire parenting movement, which Owen’s sportswriter character describes for his two sons (teen and preteen) as “just say yes.” The approach is, let them play with sharp sticks, let them make a mess, let them stay up late, etc. In the gorgeous coastal province of South Australia, the results are like Lord of the Flies meets a J. Crew catalogue spread. Both star and producer (and a father offscreen), Owen is determined to present his gentler domestic side here: He cries and grieves and learns to juggle career and home life — all without the benefit of estrogen! (Mothers will roll their eyes at the spectacle of Owen fumbling with toast and laundry.) But this father and his film — directed by Shine’s Scott Hicks — are only fun to watch while the mischief outweighs the mending. Inevitably, this all-male household must come to terms with, ahem, feelings, which kills the testosterone buzz. Carr’s original anecdotes don’t supply much story line, so Hicks spans the gaps with golden-lit montages set to Sigur Rós. They’re a great advertisement for Australian vacations. And vasectomies. (The Landmark; ArcLight Hollywood) (Brian Miller)

COCO BEFORE CHANEL Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel gives us belle époque Coco, opening in 1893 with a grim scene of the 10-year-old waif and her sister unceremoniously dumped at an orphanage, and ending around World War I, a few years before the Chanel empire is launched. The Coco of Fontaine’s project, adequately performed by Audrey Tautou, dramatizes Chanel’s most fundamental contradiction: The proud, mythomaniac peasant who would liberate women from suffocating corsets, pounds of extra material and hats that looked liked “meringues” was able to do so by lying in the beds of rich men, namely millionaire racehorse owner Etienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde) and English industrialist Arthur “Boy” Capel (Alessandro Nivola). “Coco Chanel never married,” reads the first of the closing intertitles, which the film seems to honor as the designer’s most significant accomplishment. Aiming to be a tale of self-creation, Fontaine’s film more often plays as a dull romance, Chanel’s role as mistress somehow worthy of noble celebration. Coco Before Chanel concludes with an anachronistic coda: An older Coco sits on the famous steps of her couture house as contemporary models march past her, wearing Chanel’s Greatest Hits Through the Decades. The valedictory moment feels completely unearned in a film so strenuously devoted to the years before its subject’s fame. (Royal; Arclight Hollywood) (Melissa Anderson)

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DIL BOLE HADIPPA! The title, which can be translated “My Heart Says Hooray,” is a blatant act of promotional rib-nudging: If you tell people how you want them to react, perhaps they will. Judging from the squeals of delight that burst forth at Little India’s Naz 8 cinema whenever rising star Shahid Kapoor’s shirt came unbuttoned, the filmmakers were wise to place this hot-dancing heartthrob front and center in this gender-bending romcom — even if Kapoor’s Rohan Singh, a world-class cricket player turned scratch coach grooming an Indian team in a Punjabi border town for an exhibition match against Pakistan, should really be a supporting role. To this standard underdog sports drama, the movie attaches a cross-dressing stunt lifted from the DreamWorks soccer hit She’s the Man, when expert female cricketer Verra Kaur (Rani Mukherjee) pastes on a false beard in order to try out for the boys team. Both thematically and in the boisterous zest of Mukherjee’s performance, this plot then becomes the movie’s driving force. All of the scenes in which Veera is riding high are great fun to watch, though, the outcome is beyond predictable. You could set your watch by the arrival of the tearful set-piece speech about letting gifted girls compete with boys. Ultimately, what’s most noteworthy about this middling effort is how aggressively un-contemporary it is. Rohan’s filial motivation for putting his star career as a player on hold to coach a match of pride is a throwback to old-school Bollywood conventions. And for fans of the form, the scattered musical references to past hits of the production company, Yash Raj, function as a sort of built-in trivia quiz. Rani Mukherjee could carry a lot worse than this one, even without the beard. But in the end, Dil Bole Hadippa! is a sad commercial place holder of a movie, a product of an industry that has treading water for some time, now, patiently waiting for the next big trend. (Naz 8) (David Chute)

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