Movie Reviews: Here and There, The Philosopher Kings, The Oath 

Also, The Living Wake, Holy Rollers, Shrek Forever After

Thursday, May 20 2010

BEST WORST MOVIE Michael Paul Stephenson, director of Best Worst Movie, debuted in straight-to-video as the freckled kiddie in Troll 2. Shot in Utah with a cast of locals by Italian exploitation director Claudio Fragasso, that 1990 horror has gained a cult reputation for ESL dialogue and superlative wrongheadedness. I've had a hard time believing T2 wasn't conscious of its ridiculousness — there's a scene of kids laughing at a bad movie in it — but Fragasso shows a helluva poker face discussing his serious intent. Stephenson interviewed most of T2's cast for his DVD Special Feature of a documentary as they reunited for road show screenings, but Stephenson's main focus is on George Hardy, Dad in T2 and "rich man's Craig T. Nelson." A strained, robust, divorced dentist practicing in Alexander City, Alabama, Hardy is tickled by his new niche fame, repeating his "catchphrases" ("You can't piss on hospitality!") to less- and less-receptive audiences until the former Auburn cheerleader finds himself completely out of his element at a horror-fantasy convention ("I guarantee you, only about 5 percent of these people floss their teeth on a daily basis"). On-location reenactments and fan footage are pure padding, but Best Worst does capture the ravages of contracting the acting "bug" — though Stephenson's self-exemption from his film's scrutiny feels craven, especially when he visits screen-mother Margo Prey to ogle her infirm mother and kitten-themed décor. (Nick Pinkerton) (Nuart)

THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN Mia Hansen-Løve's drama about love, sorrow and the heartbreak of independent-film financing is sliced neatly, if not all that effectively, in half by the death of its protagonist Grégoire (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing), who is based on the colorful French producer Humbert Balsan. Balsan killed himself in 2005, when his company went bankrupt, and the movie catches his panicked restlessness as he sweet-talks the money men while squeezing in a vacation at his discreetly luxurious country home with the porcelain-pretty family he adores. There's more than enough contempo-Gallic gracious living, but for once in the life of dandified French cinema, this is less about ennui or adultery in glamorous settings (there is a family secret, but it doesn't add up to much) than about the process of work in an office full of dynamically committed people desperately doing their jobs, even as the whole house of cards threatens to collapse. Hansen-Løve takes a gods-and-monsters approach to Grégoire, begging us to decide whether he's a genius talent-spotter or a selfish rotter — a romantically oversized dichotomy for a man who may simply have been better suited to nursing talent than to making the trains run on time. But Hansen-Løve's fevered mix of love for and resentment toward this man lends urgency to his unraveling. Which may be why, after she kills him off in a manner far more sensational than Balsan's actual demise, The Father of My Children loses focus and sags into a how-we-got-through-it family procedural. (Ella Taylor) (Landmark)

GO  HERE AND THERE A pleasant, minor-key romance, Darko Lungulov's Here and There has the unadorned integrity of a classic joke. There's pleasure in watching the conceit unfold, which is sweetened by an unexpectedly poignant payoff. Veteran bit player David Thornton headlines as Robert, a surly boho graybeard who has given up jazz saxophone for full-time depression. Unemployable and out of New York crash pads, he takes a young immigrant up on a $5,000 scheme to marry and chaperone his Serbian girlfriend to America. Needless to say, complications arise, and Robert finds himself marooned — unpaid, luggageless, and wearing another man's mismatched sweat suit — in Belgrade. Though the world didn't need another tale of white-male midlife crisis, as Robert makes his breakthrough, the film does, too, creating characters from local color and wisely favoring Belgrade over an NYC-set parallel plot. Most importantly, it steers away from inflated notions of redemption in favor of the unexpectedly sublime, like the odd intimacy of wearing gifted pajamas, and a friendship forged over a two-liter beer. Sporting a perma-frown and crazily cowlicked hair, Thornton stops short of outright mugging, while Mirjana Karanovic, as Robert's tentative love interest, emerges as the movie's soul. Their scenes together hint at greater depths of feeling than Lungulov's slight, if admirably restrained, first film is designed to explore. (Eric Hynes) (Music Hall)

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HOLY ROLLERS Inspired by a drug ring that used Hasidic Jews to transport more than 1 million pills of Ecstasy to the United States in a six-month period between 1998 and 1999, Kevin Asch's Holy Rollers stars Jesse Eisenberg as a good-old Brooklyn boy turned midlevel dope importer. Driven by the sense of economic inferiority and sexual uncertainty that the film suggests lie latent at the heart of the Hasidic experience, Eisenberg's Sam Gold hooks up with a neighborhood hotshot who promises him the chance to earn extra gelt by transporting "medicine" back from Amsterdam. Both intoxicated and repelled by the undercurrent of the forbidden, Sam reluctantly dedicates himself to his new pursuit; it's not long before he's cutting off his payot and striking deals with the suppliers on his own. Nicely detailed in its early scenes of Hasidic life (if somewhat less so in its depiction of the drug operation) and powered by Eisenberg's finely graded performance, Holy Rollers is too beholden to its predictable pattern of rise, fall and partial redemption. Failing to generate either excitement as a crime story or credibility as a morality play, the film ultimately confirms the traditional values that helped to push its confused lead to the brink of damnation in the first place. (Andrew Schenker) (Landmark)

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