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Critics’ Picks

Directed By John Ford (Photofest)

{mosimage}DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD (USA) By Peter Bogdanovich’s own admission, he was never entirely happy with his acclaimed but rarely screened 1971 documentary about the life and work of one of the greatest American filmmakers, which, out of deference to Ford himself (who was still alive at the time), glossed over the director’s famously unhappy private life. So earlier this year, Bogdanovich went back into production, shooting new interviews with avowed Ford admirers Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, while retooling portions of the film to deepen the portrait of Ford’s offscreen character. (Among the choicest new bits: audio of a conversation between the dying Ford and his onetime lover, Katharine Hepburn.) The result is a deeply impressive work of filmmaking and film criticism. Even at its most conventional, when Bogdanovich relies on talking-heads appreciations (retained from the 1971 version) from veteran Ford collaborators John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, Directed by John Ford has an extraordinary vitality and intimacy. You feel its subjects really opening up to Bogdanovich about their brilliant but irascible director. But the most revealing section of the film comes later, when Bogdanovich — through a deft montage of film clips and lyrical voice-over narration (read by Orson Welles) — offers up a profoundly moving survey of Ford’s careerlong juxtaposition of American family life against the turning tide of history. When it’s over, you leave the theater buzzing with renewed enthusiasm for the work of an American master artist. Filmmaker-tribute documentaries are a dime a dozen in the age of DVD extras and Turner Classic Movies, but Directed by John Ford is as massive and lasting a monument as the ones dotting Ford’s immutable Western vistas. (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Linwood Dunn Theatre; Tues., Nov. 7, 7 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

{mosimage}FAMILY LAW (Argentina) Unlike his intensely committed and colorful lawyer father, Ariel Perelman (a deadpan Daniel Hendler) is anal, inexpressive, becalmed in a dull job and unsure of his place in life. Forced to loosen up a little when he snags a lively, beautiful wife he thought was out of his league and becomes a parent, Ariel is further unsettled when his father comes to him with a proposition that plunges him into a painful but productive crisis. On paper, Family Law follows the familiar arc of domestic trouble and redemption. On screen, it’s a visually puckish, tragicomic celebration of the unsung goodness of an unassuming man of habit that broadens, like Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman’s other movies, into a meditation on secular-Jewish identity in a less-than-tolerant society. Like his equally dad-fixated, and equally wonderful, 2003 film Lost Embrace, Burman’s beguiling tribute to his Jewish father — or, for all I know, the one he wishes he had — is warm and deep enough to give humanism a good name. (Fri., Nov. 10, 7 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 11, 1 p.m.) (Ella Taylor)

FULL GROWN MEN (USA) Lyrical and funny, Full Grown Men is a tough-minded film about the need to grow up. At 35, Alby (Matt McGrath, superb) is a gifted cartoonist — and fanatical keeper of his childhood toys — whose refusal to become a responsible dad to his young son gets him tossed out of his marriage. Unemployed and blissfully unambitious, he sets for himself the perfectly inane goal of revisiting “Diggityland,” the theme park at the epicenter of his long-lost childhood. Director David Munro and co-writer Xandra Castleton take a brave but rewarding risk by letting the tale unfold from Alby’s repellently selfish, happy-go-lucky perspective. Despite the fact that he narrates, despite his clueless abuse of those whose paths he crosses — most importantly, his boyhood pal Elias (Judah Friedlander), whom he cheerfully belittles with an old nickname, as if the pleasure had ever been mutual — there is also some part of Alby oddly ready for the slapstick ordeals that await him. As he encounters a monster of overgrown childhood gone amok in the hitchhiker played by Alan Cumming, listens to a sage vet of the Depression and World War II (Jerry Grayson, terrific) hold forth on the self-indulgence of Alby’s generation, and, most hilariously, runs afoul of an aspiring circus clown (Amy Sedaris) and her troupe of loyal dwarfs, it’s as if the man Alby may yet become haunts the tale unseen, secretly organizing the very challenges, ghoulish strangers and kicks in the ass he needs to wake himself up. (Fri., Nov. 3, 9:45 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 4, 3:30 p.m.) (F.X. Feeney)

THE HOST Already the biggest box-office smash in Korean cinema history, The Host is also the most original, exhilaratingly scary-funny monster movie in many a season. In part, that’s because the monster in question — an acrobatic, swift-moving mass of slithery flesh that looks like the love child of the alien from Alien and Charlie the StarKist tuna — is neither some demonic, otherworldly visitor nor a Godzilla-style folk hero, but rather a product of its environment, the latest kink in the evolution of the food chain. (The movie’s inspiration was a real-life incident of toxic dumping into Seoul’s tranquil Han River in 2000.) Likewise, those who engage the beast in battle are not some band of steely supermen (and women), but instead a highly dysfunctional family trying to rescue their youngest from the creature’s subterranean human pantry. Imagine Little Miss Sunshine retooled as a horror movie and you’ll begin to get the idea. Directed with terrific showmanship and flair by Bong Joon-Ho (Memories of Murder) and featuring brilliant state-of-the-art visual effects, The Host is hands down the year’s best genre entertainment and then some. Is it any wonder that Hollywood and the MPAA keep trying to cannibalize the Korean film industry? (Fri., Nov. 3, 10 p.m.; Sat., Nov. 4, 4 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

INLAND EMPIRE (USA) Here’s what I can tell you about the three-hour, years-in-the-making, shot-on-purposefully-murky -digital-video pièce de résistance that is David Lynch’s Inland Empire: It has either everything or very little to do with a has-been actress (Laura Dern) hankering for a comeback, a cursed film project based on a Gypsy fairy tale, some complex business involving a circle of Polish gangsters, and a TV sitcom (complete with laugh track) starring a cast of 6-foot-tall bunny rabbits. And I haven’t even gotten to the part about the exuberant all-cast performance of Nina Simone’s “Sinner Man,” or the vagrant woman who delivers a monologue about an incontinent pet monkey. Oh well . . . Probably the boldest experiment of Lynch’s career, Inland Empire is filled with familiar signposts — doppelgängers, transmuted identity, breathy-voiced torch singers — that lead us deeper than we’ve ever ventured into its director’s nightmare fun house, where narrative is repeatedly and spectacularly sacrificed at the altar of the unconscious. Suffice it to say that by the time a bruised and battered Dern (whose performance is as fearless as Naomi Watts’ in Mulholland Drive) tells a Kafkaesque interrogator, “I don’t know what happened first, and it’s kind of laid a mindfuck on me,” you’ll have a fairly good idea of what she’s talking about. And you may crave with every fiber of your being to see Inland Empire all over again from frame one. (Fri., Nov. 3, 9:30 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 6, 7 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

TEN CANOES (Australia) Directed by the Dutch expatriate filmmaker Rolf de Heer, this sometimes bawdy (remember: “Never trust a man with a small prick”), always beguiling work of imagination begins with a group of Aboriginal tribesmen setting out on an annual goose-hunting expedition, fashioning canoes from tree trunks and sleeping in makeshift camps perched high in trees (the better to avoid being eaten by crocodiles). Along the way, an elder member of the tribe, Minygululu, regales his restless young companion, Dayindi — who happens to covet one of Minygululu’s three wives — with a cautionary tale, about another young man smitten by similar desires and the hard-gotten wisdom of being careful of what you wish for. Then this story within the story within the story starts to unfold before our eyes. If the moral of Ten Canoes is familiar, the getting there is anything but. To watch this movie (shot in breathtaking wide-screen by cinematographer Ian Jones) is to enter into a whole new language of symbols and meaning, the likes of which I have rarely encountered in cinema outside of the African tribal films of Ousmane Sembene. And yet, as in Sembene, we are never lost, for as much as anything else, Ten Canoes is a celebration of the art of storytelling, and of the power of stories to transcend all barriers of space, time and language. This is a movie with sheer magic in it. (Sat., Nov. 4, 6:30 p.m.; Sun., Nov. 5, 1:30 p.m.) (Scott Foundas)

12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST (Romania) Sixteen years after the fall of the dictator Ceausescu, three residents of a hick Romanian town come together on a local television chat show to reminisce about their alleged revolutionary zeal on that fateful day. Selective memory rules as the three — a coarse retiree; a depressed, alcoholic teacher; and a presenter to rival Ted Baxter with his fatuous platitudes and mixed metaphors — try to spin themselves as heroes of the revolution, while being interrupted by callers with revisionist agendas of their own. First-time director Corneliu Porumboiu’s political satire, which deservedly won the Golden Camera Award at Cannes this year, is uproariously funny and bitingly critical of social hypocrisy before and after Ceausescu, and of the new forms of mythmaking and corruption that have replaced Soviet-style autocracy. This brilliantly caustic movie — easily the best in a burgeoning and fertile effort to come to grips with post-Soviet malaise in Central and Eastern Europe — offers living proof that when it comes to politics, comedy is the sincerest form of dissidence. (Thurs., Nov. 9, 9:30 p.m.; Fri., Nov. 10, 2 p.m.) (Ella Taylor)

{mosimage}WHO LOVES THE SUN (Canada) The always-great Molly Parker makes her entrance in Who Loves the Sun with an old-fashioned, jaw-dropping, film-goddess moment. Standing on a dock, back to the camera, the wind whipping her dress against her athletic form, she exudes a sexual heat and power that leaps from the screen. Parker’s Maggie is part of a messy love triangle. The wife of Will (Lukas Haas), she fucks his best friend, Daniel (Adam Scott), and the fallout incinerates all ties between the three. The damage has already been done by the time the film opens, and director Matt Bissonnette, working from his own smart and often very funny script, spends the rest of the movie letting the characters claw, punch and crawl toward some sort of resolution. A subplot about the ways history has shaped the men in the triangle pays off handsomely. In addition to Parker’s movie-stealing performance, Haas and Scott (playing yet again a smarmy asshole) are also excellent, while the chemistry between Haas and Parker is especially powerful. There’s a scene in which the still-hurting-after-all-these-years Will confronts his wife and transforms from bitter to besotted and back again with such nuance and believability that you marvel at Haas’ control of the clouds beneath his skin. (Wed., Nov. 8, 9:45 p.m.; Thurs., Nov. 9, 1:30 p.m.) (Ernest Hardy)


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