Movie Reviews: Women Without Men, The Square, After.Life, Phyllis and Harold 

Also, La Mission, Godspeed, Mid-August Lunch and more

Thursday, Apr 8 2010

AFTER.LIFE Somewhere in Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo's awkward debut feature is a macabre and almost quaint gothic mystery begging to be left alone. After blowing up at her boyfriend (Justin Long) over dinner, Anna (Christina Ricci) drives off and suffers a disastrous crash — then gets chatty on the mortuary slab. The funeral director (our friendly B-movie bear Liam Neeson) says she's a halfway-there soul whom only he can hear, but what of the Deschanel-eyed spooky kid who thinks he saw her up and about in a synthetic red slip? What might have played well as a multipage Poe rumination gradually gets pulled to bits by thudding Ricci-Neeson face-offGis in the poster-ready funeral-prep chamber, and Long hissy-fits over being denied access to his would-be fiancée's body. There's potential in the filmmaker's comfort with drawing out still moments and slipping into dark visions without drawing boundaries (and Ricci's ample naked lounging lends a certain Continental touch). All of that just as easily turns into dead air and, by the end, a revelation telegraphed so unremarkably that it's hard to enjoy — not to mention Neeson's missed opportunity for vamping it up a little, what with a script that has him calling the corpses in his charge "you people!" (Nicolas Rapold) (Citywide)

THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO'S POND As a rule of thumb, it's never wise for vacationing college students to assemble and then play a dusty, ancient-looking board game they discover behind a basement wall. The ill-fated fools in the amusingly silly The Black Waters of Echo's Pond do so nonetheless and end up possessed, one after another, by demons that prey on each person's hidden desires and secret sins. Director Gabriel Bologna — son of veteran character actors Renée Taylor and Joseph Bologna — and co-writers Sean Clark and Michael Berenson waste a lot of time getting their nine sex-obsessed youths in front of that murderous board game, but once they do, the movie shifts into gear. Cleverly designed, with intricate moving parts, the game contains tarot cards, creepy skeletal totems and, in its center, a shimmering faux pond in which players can witness the truth about past events in the lives of their companions. As truths unfurl, resentments flare, and soon the kids are slaying each other with all manner of sharp objects, including, of course, a chain saw. Bloody and gory, but in a friendly way, this is a movie for old-school horror fans who understand that sometimes, bad is good. (Chuck Wilson) (Citywide)

GO  BREAKING UPWARDS Four years into their relationship, New York City 20-somethings Daryl (Daryl Wein) and Zoe (Zoe Lister-Jones) love each other but are bored silly; the sex is rote, the daily routines irritating. Rather than break up bitterly, they agree to part ways slowly, by taking "days off" from their relationship before eventually beginning to see other people. At first, their plan seems daring — in a gimmicky way — but gradually they really do begin to move apart and, at different points, each starts to mourn the loss of the other. Reportedly drawing on their own romantic relationship, Wein and Lister-Jones have co-written a low-budget romantic comedy that's smart and lively and, in the end, quite affecting. Making his feature debut, Wein, who made the superb AIDS documentary Sex Positive, directs in a free and easy style that occasionally feels aimless, until one remembers that aimlessness is a crucial part of being young. Buoyed by veteran character actors such as Peter Friedman, Julie White and Andrea Martin, as well as the charismatic young star-to-be Pablo Schreiber, Breaking Upwards is, in the end, all about the loving looks Daryl shoots Zoe, and she shoots back. (Chuck Wilson) (Sunset 5)

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DATE NIGHT "We are not these people! We are a boring couple from New Jersey!" complains Claire Foster (Tina Fey) to her husband, Phil (Steve Carell), in Date Night. Phil and Claire are middle-class suburban parents whose plans for a night on the town are thwarted when they're pulled into a web of crime and conspiracy. They wanted a night off from mundane matrimony; they learn that they're better off bored. Fey has become associated with comedy that's fast-paced, cerebral and laden with cultural references; even more than Carell, she's hurt by the transition from a sitcom that regularly operates on multiple levels (30 Rock) to a film squarely aimed just north of the lowest common denominator. Director Shawn Levy (Night at the Museums) glosses over the seeds of social satire inherent in the premise, and instead tries to make his movie all things to all quadrants — straight-faced violent action flick, slapstick comedy, relationship comedy, sanctimonious ode to family values. A jumble of genres, tones and styles, Date Night ultimately strains to be a serious movie about marriage, with one joke: that, even when surrounded by excitement, Claire and Phil revert to being dull. But in practice, their dullness is just dull. In a great romantic comedy, sex is the subtext of all conversation. In Date Night, the conversation is bland, the sex is left mainly to spies and criminals, and the subtext? That's apparently too much to ask of a boring couple from New Jersey. (Karina Longworth) (Citywide)

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