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Film Reviews

GO ADAM & STEVE A bad date can come back to haunt you, a phenomenon that may derail the blossoming romance between Adam (Craig Chester) and Steve (a fearless Malcolm Gets), two New Yorkers who’ve yet to recall that they shared a one-night stand back in 1987, an occasion that ended with Steve having a bodily-function accident so disgusting that John Waters would surely cackle with glee. Adam has a few skeletons of his own, not least his accident-prone family, on whom ceilings fall nightly, which accounts for the traction harness his mother (Julie Hagerty, aces) wears like a fashion accessory. For his debut as writer-director, Chester, who starred in the 1990s queer classics Swoon and Grief, has devised some funny running gags for his supporting cast, which includes Parker Posey and Chris Kattan. Their antics distract nicely from the fact that Adam and Steve never actually say anything interesting to each another. But then again, profundity has never been a requirement for heterosexual movie lovers either. Adam & Steve is uneven, but it’s a relief to see a gay romance that isn’t about ab-perfect 20-year-olds, and which features lovers played by two long out-of-the-closet actors. Wonder of wonders. (Sunset 5; One Colorado; Art Theater) (Chuck Wilson)

ATL His parents having recently been killed in a car crash, high school senior Rashad (rapper Tip “T.I.” Harris) lives with and looks out for his impressionable younger brother, Ant (Evan Ross), on Atlanta’s mean streets, where kids tend toward drug dealing instead of college for a shot at a future. As soon as we hear Rashad’s jaded voice-over accompanied by a menacing hip-hop beat during the opening credits, the story arc of this Dirty South Boyz N the Hood is a foregone conclusion, but veteran rap-video director Chris Robinson gives his feature debut such energy and good humor that, for a long while, ATL skates along on its slick camera movements and the exuberance of its young cast. When Robinson lets Rashad and his posse pal around, hook up and have a few laughs, he evokes a sense of how good kids in bad neighborhoods nonchalantly face constant self-destructive temptations as a part of their daily routine. But eventually, Hollywood plot machinations rear their ugly heads, dictating a generic Romeo-and-Juliet love story and an even staler cautionary tale about the evils of drugs that completely stifle the film’s laid-back appeal. What starts out as a lively reconsidering of the thug-life mentality ends up having as much depth as, well, one of Robinson’s videos. (Citywide) (Tim Grierson)

GO AWESOME: I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT This Beastie Boys concert film is billed as “an authorized bootleg,” a tag derived from the group’s decision to hand video cameras to 50 fans just before an October 2004 Madison Square Garden concert, with instructions to shoot whatever the fans wanted. The resulting footage was then sampled by director “Nathaniel Hornblower” (actually Beastie Adam Yauch) and stitched into this feature-length documentary. But while the creative driver’s seat is shared with fans, it’s clear from the start that Awesome is kissed with patented Beastie cheekiness: It opens with a non sequitur text scroll that’s played just for laughs, after which the viewer is catapulted into a sea of grainy, shaky images (at times, the film almost engenders motion sickness) that are nevertheless delicately braced with professionalism. The sound mix is gloriously pristine, catching every keyboard warble and turntable scratch, and Yauch’s precision editing simultaneously captures both fan hysteria and the energetic rush of the concert. While the joy that the Beasties have in performing is palpable, some of Awesome’s biggest highlights are snapshots of fan rapture — mosh-pit frenzy, air-guitar accompaniment and hyped mouthing along to lyrics. Keep an eye out for Ben Stiller in B-boy drag and fan-boy mode. Only hardcore aficionados will have the stamina to endure the full-on assault — the movie starts to drag near the end and feels longer than its 90 minutes — but that’s cool. It’s a love letter to the faithful in the first place. (Nuart) (Ernest Hardy)

BASIC INSTINCT 2 Beginning with a multi­cultural finger between Sharon Stone’s legs, to her more than enthusiastic approval, Basic Instinct 2 pushes diligently along in a murder-and-mayhem-stuffed effort to demonstrate that (a) a sillier and more hackneyed movie than Basic Instinct is possible and (b) that shrinks have ids too, by golly. No more bent cops (okay, just a wee one, played by David Thewlis in the movie’s lone moments of genuine fun) for Stone’s Catherine Tramell. Looking stretched and tight and quite terrific, so long as you don’t expect her to look anything like herself (she looks as though she’s prepping to be Faye Dunaway), Stone delivers her lines with slinky grace, but there’s no helping out a plot with as many doggedly transparent twists as this one. This time Our Lady of the Dried Blood has her talons and other parts of her improbably buffed bod into Dr. Michael Glass (David Morrissey), an uptight, upright psychiatrist with a lovely office in London’s sleek Gherkin Tower (shot by cinematographer Gyula Pados in the steely hues beloved of thriller hacks, in this instance director Michael Caton-Jones) and an exploitable flaw on his résumé. Of the many ancillary corpses-in-waiting, only Charlotte Rampling adds a touch of class, even while bending herself around lines like “How Lacanian!” No doubt the otherwise intelligent Henry Bean (Internal Affairs, The Believer) cleared the smug, leery script (written with his wife, Leora Barish) with his Torah study group before turning it in. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)

 

BEYOND HONOR Terrible movies about trivial subjects are commonplace and inconsequential, but a terrible movie that grapples with potentially inflammatory subject matter is far worse, because its aspirations are higher — which makes the failure of Varun Khanna’s moralistic drama all the more spectacular. In Southern California, Sahira (Ruth Osuna), a beautiful Egyptian-American medical student, nimbly juggles schoolwork, a romantic relationship with a white classmate (Jason David Smith) and the harshly conservative customs of her Muslim family, led by her racist, misogynist father (Wadie Andrawis). For the first 50 minutes, Beyond Honor depicts Sahira’s Old World/New World tug of war through a trite forbidden-love storyline. Then, at the halfway point, the film goes for its big dramatic shockeroo as Sahira’s family strikes back at her desire for personal freedom in an act of retribution, which Khanna blithely dispenses in agonizing slo-mo. From there, this clumsy culture-clash examination turns into a histrionic melodrama that lacks the artistry or character depth needed to adequately grapple with the political and emotional powder keg ignited by Sahira’s family. Because of its topicality, and the crude way in which its horrific plot twist is introduced, some will applaud Beyond Honor for its blunt “honesty,” but a movie this awfully scripted, acted and executed forfeits its right to be forgiven for good intentions. (Music Hall; Fallbrook; One Colorado) (Tim Grierson)

GO EVIL Pitched somewhere between inspirational coming-of-age tale and bloody-knuckled social drama, Swedish director Mikael Håfström’s adaptation of Jan Guillou’s autobiographical teen novel reveals a hard-edged contempt for the so-called wonder years. In 1950s Stockholm, violent juvenile delinquent Erik (Andreas Wilson) has been expelled from school for fighting, after which his mother ships him off to a distinguished private academy as a last resort. There, Erik’s attempts at reform are immediately tested by the vindictive senior class, led by Otto (Gustaf Skarsgård), which follows an unspoken school tradition of sadistically hazing underclassmen to instill discipline. Though Erik could easily end the harassment with his fists, he can’t risk another expulsion and so must learn to navigate his way through this more “civilized” environment. Superficially, the plotline is awfully familiar — the poor outsider kid who stares down the bullies and wins the love of a good girl. But Håfström (whose American debut was last year’s Derailed) doesn’t follow a predetermined course. Instead, Evil (a 2004 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film) evolves into a commentary on the troubling gray area between acceptable and unacceptable forms of violence, especially where the molding of boys into “real men” is concerned. Håfström doesn’t soft-pedal the abuse meted out by either his antihero or his nemeses, which will disturb audience members who want a clean demarcation between good guys and bad. But the excessive brutality drives home the point that those we lazily classify as “evil” aren’t always born that way — some get it beaten into them. (Royal; One Colorado) (Tim Grierson)

GO GAME 6 No writer could ever top the high drama witnessed in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series — which may be the point of this sloppy but endearing mash note to baseball, art and fate. Playwright Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton) has the misfortune of having his newest Broadway show open on the same night that his beloved Red Sox try to finish off the Mets. Novelist-turned-screenwriter Don DeLillo then piles on more conflict for his lead character — Rogan’s wife (Catherine O’Hara) hands him divorce papers, the lead actor in his play (stage veteran Harris Yulin, in an expert turn) forgets his lines, and, yes, a gun-carrying drama critic (Robert Downey Jr.) takes his seat right behind the playwright’s daughter (Ari Graynor). Downey is inspired as the critic (who merits favorable comparisons to the screen’s great poison pen, George Sanders’ Addison DeWitt from All About Eve), but it’s not theater that makes Game 6 interesting. Instead, it’s Keaton’s monologues about baseball — a fixation of DeLillo’s since his first novel — and Boston’s (now broken) curse that work the movie’s modest magic. Don’t expect grace on the level of the author’s Pafko at the Wall, or even Vin Scully’s classic NBC play-by-play, but for viewers counting the minutes until opening day, Game 6 provides a quirky cinematic alternative to next week’s Benchwarmers. (Fairfax; Fallbrook) (James C. Taylor)

 

GO THE GRACE LEE PROJECT In this delightfully bighearted documentary, Korean-American filmmaker Grace Lee goes in search of her own identity by seeking out other owners of the most ubiquitous female moniker on the Asian books, and looks in vain for any evidence to support the persistent notion that all Grace Lees — and, by extension, all Asian women — are invariably petite, quiet, intelligent and sweet. Though clearly a feminist, Lee also has an abiding curiosity and openness of mind that allows her to celebrate not only the vibrant octogenarian Marxist Grace Lee, who has worked in poor black communities all her life, or the lesbian activist Grace Lee she finds blazing trails in Seoul, or the Grace who set fire to her high school, but also the Grace-Kelly Graces and the many Christian Graces, including a bunch of P.K.’s (pastor’s kids) who bring an infectious moxie to their calling, and whose certitude Lee envies even as she realizes she’s cut from different cloth. Niftily shot and edited, The Grace Lee Project isn’t just a witty unpacking of stereotype. It’s also a welcome freshening of the old documentary saw that there’s no such thing as an ordinary person. (Fairfax) (Ella Taylor)

GO ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN Never a dull moment for prehistory’s most long-faced woolly mammoth, Manny (Ray Romano), and his square-peg pals Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the Tiger (Denis Leary): One millennium, they’re getting frozen into extinction; the next, hot-button issues loom as the globe warms to unacceptable levels and a bursting dam threatens to drown the cute residents of their happy little valley. It’s the fate of most sequels to puff and pant with the effort to top what went before, but if Ice Age: The Meltdown is a little too frantic with slapstick for its own good — director Carlos Saldanha has expanded the squirrel-rat’s acorn-seeking shtick to the point of tedium, unless you happen to be 2 years old — the movie still retains the goofy charm, stylish visuals and attention to character of its fine 2002 predecessor. Queen Latifah is a warm and plummy new presence as a voluptuous lady mammoth whose only drawback is that she was raised by possums and thinks she’s one herself. And among several set-piece treats, a Busby Berkeley–style musical number sung by proliferating minisloths stands out for sheer sublime silliness. But what’s up with the vogue for upping the scare-factor ante in current movies for tots? There are scenes here that will play like a horror movie to the under-5 crowd. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)

LARRY THE CABLE GUY: HEALTH INSPECTOR In the vernacular of the Bush era, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector can be thought of as unabashedly “playing to its base.” Sort of a cracker variation on the Tyler Perry films, it’ll give fans exactly what they expect while passing unseen by anyone else. Nothing sums up the movie quite so well as knowing that within the first minute and a half there is a view of Larry’s butt crack — and a guy gets racked in the nuts. The logical knot of how a character known as Larry the Cable Guy comes to work as a restaurant health inspector is perhaps best left to bigger minds, though it does guarantee ample fart jokes and the obligatory “Larry on the toilet” scene. Curiously, the script is credited to Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, two former Spin writers, but there’s no sense of meta-sophistication here, and the low road always wins out. Great pains are made to show Larry being friendly to the proprietors of a sushi house, an Indian joint and a soul-food place, but he still refers to it all as “immigrant food” and certainly doesn’t much like the stuff. The intriguing tension that lies just beneath the whole film — how does an essentially good-natured good ol’ boy come to terms with the complications of a polyglot, Prius-driving, Internet-wired culture? — is left almost entirely unexplored. (Citywide) (Mark Olsen)

LONESOME JIM The title character in this monotone new film from actor-turned-director Steve Buscemi would probably be a little less lonesome if he stopped being such a dick. A would-be writer who’s returned to his Indiana family after bottoming out in Manhattan, the 27-year-old Jim (Casey Affleck) advises his divorced older brother (Kevin Corrigan) to kill himself and is continually dismissive and occasionally cruel to both his mother (Mary Kay Place) and the beautiful nurse (Liv Tyler) he supposedly wants to date. Jim’s a louse because he’s depressed, but first-time screenwriter James C. Strouse (in whose hometown the film was shot) provides so few clues to the source of Jim’s malaise, or that of his entire sad-sack family, that the movie remains rudderless and not the least bit believable. Often, Affleck appears to be biting down on his own smile, as if he — or perhaps his director — believes that displaying a moment’s charm would betray Jim’s angst. Place, who has played her fair share of unappreciated Midwestern moms, could teach Affleck a thing or two about tension-filled smiles, but even she can’t breathe life into a character whose defining characteristic is her affection for a “World’s Greatest Grandmother” mug that Buscemi never tires of showing in close-up. (Selected theaters) (Chuck Wilson)

 

MARILYN HOTCHKISS BALLROOM DANCING AND CHARM SCHOOL In the ’70s, a movie with this many famous faces — John Goodman, Marisa Tomei, Mary Steenburgen, Camryn Manheim, Sean Astin and half a dozen others — would usually signal a disaster flick. In this case, it’s just a disaster. Co-writer–director Randall Miller has essentially grafted pointless celebrity cameos onto his own nostalgic 1990 short film about rowdy boys circa 1962 forced to attend cotillion and learning to like girls. Here, scenes from Miller’s short become the rowdy boyhood memories of a dying car-crash victim (Goodman), whose chance meeting with an emotionally shut-off widower (Robert Carlyle) inspires the latter to attend dance classes, where, surprise, love awaits with lonely-heart Tomei. It’s all a treacly, shoddily assembled, underwritten mess. Especially bizarre is that Miller did his modestly amusing short no favors by diluting it with the new stuff, which, of course, hardly feels new. Dancing With the Stars is more life-affirming. (Selected theaters) (Robert Abele)

GO RAPE OF THE SOUL Artists and bishops are evil, and they want to make us as bad as they are. We already suspected it before Rape of the Soul, a delightful talking-heads romp through the world of Satanism, pederasty and alien infiltration as represented in religious art. But now, confronted with The Evidence by director Michael A. Calace, we know it for sure. Is Rape a hilariously stupid documentary or an ingenious put-on? Honest to God, it’s hard to tell, but in these Da Vinci Code days, one is tempted by cryptic Dan Brown–like clues to come down on the side of the latter: (1) Though Calace seizes credibility by the balls as our outraged goombah narrator, he describes himself as an actor and an “inventor” who holds a patent in golf technology. (2) The way the film turns everything into an acronym (“the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA”) is just too funny. (3) Calace finds the English word S-E-X embedded in paintings from the Italian Renaissance. (4) Hundreds of years ago, an artist precognitively painted an exact portrait of Vladimir Putin; Calace suggests the devil gave him access to future visions. Find your own clues! The real joke is that, though many of the subliminal “faces,” “penises” and “666s” Calace discovers in his 140-minute assault are pure fantasy, a lot are plainly visible! They may not have actually stimulated our modern wave of child molestation and general immorality, but they reap their own potent consequences: Instead of seeing penises in Christ, I’m seeing Christ in my penis. And that ain’t good. (Fairfax) (Greg Burk)

GO SLITHER In Slither, the most sensationally scary-funny creep-out movie since Gremlins, an army of extraterrestrial slugs hitches a ride on an asteroid, crash-lands in the sleepy, deer-hunting hamlet of Wheelsy, South Carolina, and sets about feasting on the local population. And damn if writer-director James Gunn doesn’t almost have you rooting for the little mollusks! A Darwinian if ever there was one, Gunn paints the Wheelsy locals as a bunch of comic grotesques — overgrown frat boys, loose women and disturbingly picture-perfect Norman Rockwell families — then takes demented pleasure in turning the hunters into the hunted. It’s the kind of movie that used to be called “trashy good fun,” only there’s nothing trashy about it: Gunn, who scripted the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, is clearly punch-drunk with horror-movie love; Slither is, among other things, a freewheeling homage to The Blob, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and just about everything by George Romero. But it’s also a crack social satire that weighs in on the au courant evolution-vs.-creationism debate, cautions against the dangers of groupthink and turns into a hilarious test case for the sacred vows of marriage. Gunn keeps the action zipping along, aided by ingenious makeup effects and actors (including that sublime screwball Elizabeth Banks) who gleefully throw caution to the wind. You’ll never be able to listen to Air Supply’s “Every Woman in the World” in quite the same way again. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

STAY ALIVE Disney is reportedly using Stay Alive to revive its Hollywood Pictures division — what better lifeblood than a brain-dead teens-in-peril thriller? This one takes The Ring and replaces the cursed videotape with an underground video game, the players of which inadvertently resurrect the spirit of murderous Transylvanian countess Elizabeth Bathory, and subsequently — after being terrorized by self-breaking mirrors, self-opening doors and hordes of kabuki zombies — get slaughtered. Strapped with a PG-13 rating, Stay Alive is death porn without the porn: Director William Brent Bell’s pre-gore cutaways should enrage even those horror buffs for whom suspense is irrelevant, to say nothing of the fact that the movie’s only real scare tactic is playing what sounds like a reverbed electric razor on the soundtrack. The banter (“The problem with your mouth is that stupid, insensitive shit comes out of it”) s on a level appropriate for star Frankie Muniz’s Malcolm in the Middle crowd, although the setting for this celebration of slaughter — New Orleans — now seems tacky enough to begin with. Picked off roughly in order from most annoying to least, the movie’s semiprofessional gamers (led by Jon Foster) aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, with penchants for wandering into abandoned construction sites and illuminating darkened hallways with Zippos, even when the electricity is presumably working. Maybe video games really do rot the mind; the kids should have long ago hung up Castlevania IV in favor of Videodrome and eXistenZ. (Citywide) (Ben Kenigsberg)

 


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