Movie Reviews: Anton Chekhov's The Duel, Toy Story 3, I Am Love 

Also, Cyrus, The Mormon Proposition, The Lottery

Thursday, Jun 17 2010

THE A-TEAM Joe Carnahan's big-screen adaptation of NBC's 1983 midseason-replacement-turned-three-seasons-running-hit is convoluted, overstuffed, turned up to 11, and yet, somehow, deadly dull — in other words, white noise. Rather than a reinterpretation, it's a soulless, sloppy, smirky rerun that makes those Charlie's Angels movies seem positively nouvelle vague; at least Drew Barrymore and crew weren't just shouting bad impressions over the blasts. Liam Neeson is George Peppard as Hannibal Smith, cigar-chomping frontman of the band of wrongly accused Army Rangers; Bradley Cooper is Dirk Benedict as Templeton "Faceman" Peck, bullets bouncing off his perpetual smug grin; Quinton Jackson is Mr. T as B.A. Baracus, whose Mohawk still pities the fool; and District 9's Sharlto Copley is Dwight Schultz as Murdock, the howlin' mad pilot who crashes most everything he touches. To the mix, add in Jessica Biel as the Army captain charged with bringing down the boys (complicated by the fact that Face is her ex); Patrick Wilson as the CIA agent who may or may not be setting up the team (but totally is, duh); frequent video-game voice-over actor Brian Bloom as the icky leader of a Blackwater-style operation that's gone rogue, I tell ya, rogue; and Gerald McRaney as the world's worst best friend. The plot has something to do with counterfeiting plates, but it's just an excuse to blow shit up for two hours. How can something this loud be this boring? (Robert Wilonsky) (Citywide)

GO  8: THE MORMON PROPOSITION Grinning into the camera, a young Mormon in a Prop. 8 commercial highlighted in 8: The Mormon Proposition gushes that her activism around getting the ballot measure passed (to restrict the definition of marriage in California to opposite-sex couples) "makes me feel American." Diving into the grim irony of one group of Americans denying another group its rights under the guise of upholding American freedoms and ideals, director Reed Cowan illuminates how the Mormon Church played California politics like a fiddle, and how the church's homophobia has ruined the lives of its queer faithful. Cowan strikes a potent balance between heart and head, juxtaposing emotionally wrenching moments (a segment in which queer Mormons describe past suicide attempts is especially painful) with self-damning portraits of Mormon politicians and church officials, and hard-nosed journalism from reporter Fred Karger, who exhaustively outlines the church's role in conceiving and bankrolling Prop. 8. The film, whose low budget is underscored in cheesy dramatic reenactments, might have been strengthened had Cowan connected dots between the fact that at the same time California passed Prop. 8, Arizona and Florida also passed initiatives banning gay marriage. (He does show how the Mormons used Hawaii as a test run for what they'd achieve in California.) But the flaws pale against what's illustrated, which is not just how Prop. 8 passed, but also the sordid, cynical workings of our political machine. (Ernest Hardy) (Sunset 5)

GO  CYRUS This freakishly engrossing black comedy about excessively mothered men and the women who enable them, stars John C. Reilly as a middle-aged lost soul who can't believe his luck when he takes up with an enigmatic fox (the excellent Marisa Tomei). Until, that is, he runs afoul of her son the emotional terrorist, played by Jonah Hill, who cannily dials down the schoolboy hysteria that has defined his persona in the Judd Apatow oeuvre, into a lethally seditious calm. So begins a slow war of attrition as excruciatingly funny to watch as it is horrifying to be caught up in. Yet nothing is overplayed in a movie that wanders teasingly along the borders between sorrow and laughter. Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, who come loosely associated with the mumblecore movement, Cyrus was made with Hollywood money (Ridley and Tony Scott, neither famous for the experimental method, are executive producers) and big-name stars. It still retains the meandering quality of the Duplass brothers' The Puffy Chair, but also has a satisfying formal coherence. How you read the ending of this wickedly ambiguous yet strangely tender parsing of modern relationships will depend to a degree on which genre you think the film falls into, but far more on whether you think there's such a thing, in this age of perpetual youth, as a grown-up. (Ella Taylor) (t/k)

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GO  ANTON CHEKHOV'S THE DUEL Faithfully adapted from the Chekhov novella by Mary Bing and crisply paced by Israeli director Dover Koshashvili, Anton Chekhov's The Duel comes about as close to soap opera passion as the virtuoso of wistful lethargy is likely to get. Perhaps comic opera is the operative term: Adultery, betrayal, blackmail, drunken antics and all manner of peculiar impulse behavior enliven the summery indolence of a Black Sea backwater. Laevsky (Andrew Scott), an agitated, intellectual young wastrel, is frantically attempting to ditch Nadia (Fiona Glascott), the vain, lazily bovine married woman whom he persuaded to run away with to the wilds of the Caucasus. Laevsky and Nadia are perfectly ill-matched in their respective inability to cope with crisis. As the discarded mistress becomes increasingly lost, her disheveled lover grows hysterically dissolute. Meanwhile, their tragicomic floundering is observed by three professionals — a contemptuous zoologist with a particular animus for Laevsky; the kindly, if dim-witted, town doctor; and a timid deacon — each of whom embodies a particular moral position. The largely verbal drama is played out over a series of comic social disasters to climax with the eponymous affaire d'honneur — at once the height of irrationality and the logical culmination of the movie's ongoing narrative argument. Although co-producer Donald Rosenfeld is a longtime Merchant Ivory associate, this potentially middlebrow exercise is neither anemic nor unduly genteel. The period atmosphere is sensuous; the postcard setting feels lived-in. The Duel is the most successful literary adaptation I've seen since Pascal Ferran's 2006 Lady Chatterley. (J. Hoberman) (Music Hall, Playhouse, Town Center)

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