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Film Reviews

(Photo by Fernando Gomez/Sony Pictures Classics)

GO FOLLOWING SEAN Better titled The Making of a Counter-Counterculture, Ralph Arlyck’s documentary catches up with the subject of a 1969 student film Arlyck shot in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. Then, Sean Farrell was a waifish 4-year-old schooled in the ways of pot smoking and crash-pad etiquette. He grew up to be neither an investment banker nor a homeless schizophrenic, but an electrician who moved out of the Haight and who (when Arlyck meets up with him) is about to bring home the Russian fiancée he met online. Moving back and forth between a black-and-white past and a Kodak Color present, Following Sean carries echoes of Michael Apted’s decades-spanning Up series. But this elliptical doc is as much about its maker as it is about Sean, as Arlyck’s ruminating voice-over questions the counterculture’s assumptions of free love and communal living. Although Arlyck’s narrative is sometimes off-putting, he pitilessly examines the effects of bohemian ideals on Sean’s parents, an Eisenhower-era couple who moved into the Haight — and an open marriage that would tear the family apart. Sean’s grandfather was the colorful longshore Communist Archie Brown, and part of the film’s charm lies in its evocation of a generational mural that includes old Marxists, flower children and the progeny of red-diaper babies. (Fairfax) (Steven Mikulan)

HATE CRIME The road to moviegoing hell is paved with well-intentioned queer cinema, and Hate Crime is a red stone on that path. When Chris (Chad Donella), the rabidly homophobic son of an overbearing, fundamentalist preacher (Bruce Davison), moves in next door to a nigh-perfect gay couple (both handsome professionals with loving, accepting families) who are about to get married and — sigh — maybe adopt a child, it’s only a matter of time before the film’s portentous title becomes celluloid reality. Writer-director Tommy Stovall tries to throw wrenches into this clichéd story of good gays done bad. He muddies the waters with uncertainty: Did the son of a preacher man really do the crime? Why is the lead investigative cop targeting the grieving partner as a possible suspect? But despite the presence of a fantastic, giving-their-all cast (including Giancarlo Esposito and a still-beautiful Susan Blakely), the film never rises above its cry now–avenge later Lifetime Channel sensibilities. Stovall’s premise — that the gay couple’s neighborhood represents a wholesome, loving family unit destroyed not by sin or sexual perversion, but by religious bigotry — is an interesting one. Sadly, there’s no psychological depth to either the characters or the script, and that premise simply withers. (Sunset 5) (Ernest Hardy)

GO KEEPING UP WITH THE STEINS The Steins of Brentwood held their son’s bar mitzvah celebration on an ocean liner at sea, with party sets modeled after the movie Titanic — how do you top that? Such is the dilemma facing Hollywood agent Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven), whose son Benjamin (Daryl Sabara) isn’t sure that his dad’s plan for a Dodger Stadium extravaganza is the best way to go. Although first-time director Scott Marshall and screenwriter Mark Zakarin nimbly satirize West L.A. excess, Keeping Up With the Steins is actually more of a valentine to Jewish family life — one that goes down a lot sweeter than the recent, similarly themed When Do We Eat? Marshall is the nephew of actor-director Penny Marshall (Laverne & Shirley to Awakenings) and the son of TV producer–movie director Garry Marshall (Happy Days to Pretty Woman), who here gives a funny, surprisingly restrained performance as Adam’s long-lost father, a man with a knack for cutting to the heart of the Talmudic teachings that have Benjamin so tongue-tied. As director, Scott Marshall displays an unsurprising flair for selling a joke, but also a fine sense of dramatic pacing and, even better, a gift for brevity, neither of which, it could be argued, are innate skills of his famous filmmaking family. (Selected theaters) (Chuck Wilson)

GO RUSSIAN DOLLS Precisely observed, charming and — for better and worse — light as air, Cédric Klapisch’s update of his 2000 romantic comedy, L’Auberge Espanole, offers at minimum the pleasure of checking back in with a bunch of comely but hopelessly neurotic young things after five years of life experience have washed over them. The fly in the ointment is that Klapisch’s alter ego, Xavier (played by Romain Duris, who gave a brilliant performance as an artistically inclined gangster in last year’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped), has hardly changed unless you count the fact that he’s stitched together a modicum of career success as a multitasking writer in the new world economy. Rushing between London and Paris via the Chunnel, Xavier further demonstrates his ongoing failure to commit to any one of a bevy of biddable women, among them Audrey Tautou, as his equally screwed-up but terrifyingly candid ex, and the excellent Kelly Reilly, as an old friend with romantic troubles of her own. I leave it to you to decide whether Xavier is a compelling prototype of a new generation of deracinated globe-trotters or a royal pain in the ass. Russian Dolls is rarely less than engaging, but I was never able to make up my mind as to whether I was watching a movie trying, Truffaut style, to uncover its deeper meanings as it went along, or a serious attack of psychological vanity. (Music Hall; Playhouse 7) (Ella Taylor)

SEE NO EVIL The killer in this nasty yet taut slice-and-dice ‘em horror flick is a collector of eyeballs, which he removes from his screaming victims with an efficient single swooping motion of his talon-like index finger.If that image makes you grin not cringe, then this movie’s for you. It’s obviously been designed for Saw fans, the torture happy horror franchise that’s transformed arthouse distributor Lions Gate (Crash) into Hollywood’s premiere — and enviably profitable — house of gore. (Torture is to Lions Gate what Dracula and the Wolfman were to Universal and what Freddy Krueger was to New Line Cinema.) See No Evil’s Jacob does not speak, but he clearly loves his work, which involves pitching a long chain with a meat hook on its end at the six teens and two adults who’ve foolishly entered the abandoned hotel he calls home. The 7-foot tall, 300 pound wrestling star known as Kane plays Jacob with obvious relish, but the real star is the hotel itself, upon which production designer Michael Rumpf and first time director Gregory Dark-have heaped a lovingly detailed heap of dust and decrepitude. It appears too, that they got a discount on cockroaches. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

{mosimage}GO PICK SKETCHES OF  FRANK GEHRY  Sydney Pollack’s first documentary is the culmination  of some four years of work spent crafting a cinematic portrait of the architect Frank Gehry. Though Gehry and Pollack have long been friends, the veteran Hollywood director confesses early on to being an architecture neophyte, and so much of the film’s sprightly energy stems from its combination of expert research and amateur enthusiasm. True to its title, the relentlessly intelligent Sketches approaches its subject from a multitude of angles: Part talking-heads portrait of the artist as seen by his greatest admirers (Ed Ruscha, Philip Johnson and Dennis Hopper among them) and harshest critics (particularly writer Hal Foster); part travelogue surveying Gehry’s major buildings (captured by Pollack in exquisite, sensual compositions); above all, an intimate observation of Gehry at work, cutting and pasting the scraps of silvery construction paper that will one day become sheets of corrugated metal and beams of steel. Pollack may not know much about architecture, but he knows more than a bit about the struggle to carve out a personal niche in what is an inherently commercial field, and it’s on that level that he and Gehry make their most meaningful connection — as two creators keenly aware of the never-ending battle between art and commerce. (Among the film’s many intriguing bits of trivia is the reminder that, in his pre-celebrity days, Gehry was the architect of the Santa Monica Place shopping mall on the Third Street Promenade — an achievement Gehry now regards with about as much enthusiasm Pollack might muster for his much-maligned Sabrina remake.) Sketches was produced for PBS’s American Masters series, but it’s in theaters now and deserves to be seen on the largest possible screen. (Selected theaters) (Scott Foundas)


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