Film Reviews

GO COACHELLA Just as SoCal was ripe for a multigenre, Euro-style music festival, so was Coachella ready for a documentary that captured the euphoric excitement of watching live bands and dancing to pulsating electronica in a sweaty, glow-stick-lit tent. Director Drew Thomas forgoes focusing on the festival’s history — Goldenvoice president and Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett makes only a brief appearance — and much of the backstage antics in favor of on-the-stage and on-the-field action, from fan and artist testimonials (“When I was in college, it was the Pixies and R.E.M. that changed my life,” proclaims Radiohead’s Thom Yorke) to six years’ worth of performances: Iggy Pop, all rippling muscles and bulging veins; the Prodigy, all incoherent scowling; and the Mars Volta, all jerky fits and guitar-swinging antics that are straight out of Santana doing “Soul Sacrifice” during Woodstock. (Mind-altering drugs, dancing to tribal beats, one regrettably spotted Dead sweater: Aren’t we really just this generation’s hippies?) From the swaying palm trees to the desert sun dipping behind the San Jacinto Mountains, Coachella imparts a fly-on-the-speakers feel, especially when Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips decides to roll over the audience in a giant plastic bubble like a human beach ball. But all this love for the mom-and-pop, alterna-indie, little festival that could — going against what Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea has called a “giant, corporate, kiss-ass, stiff affair” — nevertheless raises the question: Why Madonna? (Selected theaters) (Siran Babayan)

FAILURE TO LAUNCH A big-screen Mat­thew McConaughey workout video in which the frighteningly tan star sails, surfs, rock-climbs and mountain-bikes, and occasionally surrenders himself to limp farcical shenanigans about a 30-something boat broker named Tripp, who still lives at home with his parents (Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates). Finally deciding that enough is enough, Mom and Dad respond to their predicament in the only logical fashion: They hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), a professional “interventionist” who lures men like Tripp out of the nest by pretending to fall in love with them. (Back where I come from, we have a different word for women who date men for money.) Of course, the script (by veteran sitcom writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember) ordains that Paula actually fall for Tripp, who must in turn discover the truth at a particularly inopportune moment, while we count down to that inevitable denouement where everyone realizes how cruel and manipulative they’ve been and we can all go home happy. En route, director Tom Dey (Shanghai Noon, Showtime) puts a succession of slapstick sight gags through their witless paces, including several bouts of sub–Meet the Parents animal antics. Even by the low standards of high-concept Hollywood rom-coms, this charmless, prophetically titled stinker stands apart, suggesting that the recent mass firings at studio Paramount may not have been such a bad idea after all. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

THE HILLS HAVE EYES From the early image of an American flag flapping from an RV traveling through the badlands of the American Southwest to the climactic moment in which a self-proclaimed pacifist employs Old Glory as an eye-gouging spear before going ape-shit with a pickax, French director Alexandre Aja wants to make sure we know that his remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is saying something about life in the land of the free. What it’s saying hardly matters. And to think that the French wonder why we hate them! Released in 1977, the original Hills was itself a sociopolitical allegory, pitting a God-fearing suburban family against a clan of radioactive cannibal mutants who, depending on how you interpreted them, were either a reactionary portrait of hippiedom run amok or stand-ins for the collateral victims (blacks, Indians, et al.) of America’s manifest destiny. In the remake, the glib aspersions never cease — in one choice moment, one of the ghouls even sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” — but in the hands of Aja and co-writer Gregory Levasseur (together responsible for that earlier charnel house of displeasure known as High Tension), they amount to little more than a smoke screen for an orgy of bloodletting and dismemberment that’s more monotonous than shocking. Aja and Levasseur are to splatter what Liberace was to rhinestones: practitioners of gaud. By the time the movie’s reluctant young hero (Aaron Stanford) finds himself trapped in a storage freezer alongside a couple of decomposing corpses and struggles to break free, we know exactly how he feels. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

THE SHAGGY DOG In this serviceable remake of the fondly remembered 1959 Disney comedy (which starred Fred MacMurray), an impressively dexterous Tim Allen plays Dave Douglas, an L.A. deputy D.A. who’s bitten by a Tibetan-born bearded collie, the magic blood of which turns man into beast. Soon, Dave is transforming back and forth between his human and canine bodies, and if hilarity doesn’t exactly ensue, director Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues) and his five (five!) screenwriters keep the kid-friendly cat chases coming. The film drags in the homestretch, as the filmmakers needlessly shuffle characters around the city — time that would have been better spent on the movie’s band of wittily conceived, computer-animated animal hybrids, including a king cobra with a furry tail that Dave springs from the lab of a mad scientist (Robert Downey Jr). Since the film doesn’t exactly inspire profound thought, let’s exit with a little-known fact about its origins: The 1959 Shaggy Dog was based on The Hound of Florence, a 1923 novel by Hungarian writer Felix Salten, who pub­lished another book that same year that the Nazis would later ban but which Thomas Mann loved and passed along to an American friend named Walt Disney. That book? Bambi: A Life in the Woods. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

TRUDELL Despite the glowing words said about him by the likes of Robert Redford, Val Kilmer and Jackson Browne, you’d be hard-pressed to understand what makes John Trudell such a revered (if somewhat forgotten) counterculture figure on the basis of this flattering, superficial documentary. Although director Heather Rae’s portrait of the Native American rabble-rouser fills its 80 minutes with a wealth of information — from a comprehensive rundown of Trudell’s protests against the U.S.’s mistreatment of Indians to selections from his poems and spoken-word rock albums — she ultimately delivers a breezy fight-the-man highlight reel instead of a thoughtful examination of the political activist’s inner life. Clearly meant to rouse lefty sympathies, the film’s kid-gloves approach to Trudell’s many confrontations with the government during the ’70s (when he and his American Indian Movement group were labeled as terrorists) fails to sufficiently illustrate the era’s historical importance, giving Trudell’s commitment to social justice an off-putting aura of nostalgia. (It also doesn’t help that Rae juxtaposes her subject’s admittedly ponderous poetry with pretentious visuals that play like unintended parodies of bad experimental art films.) How could a movie about someone with one of the nation’s longest FBI files be this dull? (Music Hall) (Tim Grierson)

ULTRAVIOLET The 21st-century mutant warrior Ultraviolet (Milla Jovovich) can dodge bullets at the speed of light, but her niftiest power is the ability to change her hair color and outfit in midstride. A dream Barbie with a rebel’s heart, “V” has snatched from her human nemesis (Nick Chinlund, a good actor who may never live down his character’s predilection for wearing germ-deflecting nostril guards) a 12-year-old clone boy (Cameron Bright), whose lab-created blood contains a toxin that could destroy V’s race. For this violent yet gore-free film, clearly designed for horny teenage video-game wizards, writer-director Kurt Wimmer stages a succession of fight sequences that pit V against helmeted thugs who appear to have raided the Star Wars storm-trooper costume closet. She’s a whirling dervish of Hong Kong–style kicks, flips and jabs, but her adversaries are just goons with machine guns, unworthy of either the elaborate fight choreography or all those hours Jovovich must have spent in the gym. Ultraviolet and the recent Resident Evil films mark this compelling Russian beauty as the unofficial queen of Xbox-ready junk movies, which are fast becoming the new century’s equivalent of radioactive-bug flicks. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)


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