Movie Reviews: Broken Embraces, Paa, A Single Man, Armored 

Also, Four Seasons Lodge, the Vicious Kind, The Lovely Bones and more

Wednesday, Dec 9 2009

ACCORDING TO GRETA The title character of According to Greta is a daughter of Juno, but even those who fell for the dubious charms of Diablo Cody’s airlessly overdetermined heroine will have a hard time warming to shrill, sulky 17-year-old Greta, played by former ’tween darling Hillary Duff. A difficult child dumped on her grandparents (Ellen Burstyn and Michael Murphy) by her exasperated mother (a wasted Melissa Leo), Greta arrives at her New Jersey “exile” with a foul attitude and flippant tongue, both of which she unleashes on anyone in her path. Forced by Grandma to get a job, she becomes a waitress in a seafood restaurant, where she meets Julie (Evan Ross, charming), an ex-con line cook who falls for her, and vice versa. Working from a psychologically trite script by Michael Gilvary, director Nancy Bardawil gets largely good performances from her cast — Burstyn is especially wonderful in a third-act monologue about the gains and losses of aging — even as she crams the soundtrack with songs that heavy-handedly underline every action and emotion as Greta moves toward healing the broken heart that’s at the root of her bitchiness. (Monica 4-Plex) (Ernest Hardy)

ARMORED A crew of working-stiff armored truck personnel decide to lift their own payload with a heist plan that no one would ever attempt outside a first-draft screenplay. Dramatis personae are introduced picking up their ID tag personalities, so that you can care when they’re eventually in harm’s way. (Milo Ventimiglia’s cop informs you that he has a dad; Amaury Nolasco’s gets a ribbing for his Bible.) The camaraderie in the Eagle Shield Transport locker room is strained stuff, despite a capable ensemble cast that includes Matt Dillon and Larry Fishburne — and Jean Reno’s sore-thumb presence as “Quinn,” an obvious bid for Euros. Director Nimród Antal shows the same weakness for augmenting action with swaggering beats that marked his debut, Kontroll (per Dillon’s character: “It looks like you’re overcompensating”), but he settles in once the crew arrives at the film’s set-piece destination: In a gutted factory to divvy up the money — Armored gives a good tour of industrial L.A. — a stand-off results when the new guy on the crew (that’s former dancer-choreographer Columbus Short) gets an attack of conscience. Antal is never much beyond serviceable here, but he does make a chase-duel between two entirely identical armored cars almost decipherable, which is no mean feat. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)

GO  BROKEN EMBRACES “Everything’s already happened to me,” admits Harry Caine, the blind, middle-aged filmmaker in Broken Embraces. “All that’s left is to enjoy life.” ¡Sí! His own sights set low these days in his latest movie, reformed bad-boy Pedro Almodóvar has at least hit on a vivid metaphor for his diminished condition. Indeed, three decades into his career as a name-brand fashioner of zesty soapers, Spanish cinema’s most beloved export could direct un film de Almodóvar with his eyes shut and still get a rise out of his fans. So who could blame the matador for letting the bull run the show this time? Channeling Audrey Hepburn, Penélope Cruz plays Lena, a Madrid secretary who moonlights as a hooker named Severine before turning full time to (what else?) film acting. Pretending to be in love with ancient Ernesto (José Luis Gómez), Lena is secretly carrying on with her director (Lluís Homar), who changes his name to Harry upon losing his eyesight in a car crash. Fourteen years after the accident, a gay, twice-married goofball who calls himself Ray X is identified by blind Harry as actually being Ernesto Jr. (Rubén Ochandiano), a filmmaker who ... oh, well, you get the idea. Equal parts comic melodrama and film noir, twice as fun as it ought to be, Broken Embraces splices itself together in the end. Maybe Almodóvar — blindly optimistic, confident enough to coast — still has it after all. (ArcLight Hollywood; Royal; Playhouse 7) (Rob Nelson)

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GO  FOUR SEASONS LODGE Four Seasons Lodge has an elevator pitch — “A Catskills colony of Holocaust survivors is threatened with eviction after 25 summers together!” — that drew Albert Maysles on board as a cinematographer, and his instincts didn’t steer him wrong. What’s surprising about a documentary with such an obvious hook is its unforced but trenchant look at the crisis of faith dividing a small group of mostly Polish Jews who suffered through one of the most godless blights on human history. Of a hundred or so tenants, director Andrew Jacobs focuses on a half-dozen, several of whom have known each other since the war; having lost almost every relative they had, they sought out not only a new life but a new family in America. Jacobs, a New York Times reporter who discovered the colony while reporting on Catskills living in 2005, lets moments of peace, sadness and consternation play out gracefully among the elderly residents, who cajole and crab at each other like siblings. Survivors with increasingly numbered days (several have died since the filming), the most biting observations come from those, like groundskeeper Hymie Abramowitz, who still revel in Jewish culture but left God where God left them: at the gates of Auschwitz. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Michelle Orange)

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