AUTUMN In this elegantly stylized but emotionally strained first feature by Francophile American writer-director Ra’up McGee, the highly decorative Laurent Lucas (With a Friend Like Harry, Lemming) plays a hit man bothered by a freshly grown conscience and his rekindled love for an even more decorative, but potentially unreliable, childhood friend (Irène Jacob). Together they creep around a very noir, very quiet Paris giving and getting grief from far less photogenic mobsters aided by the exhilaratingly weird-looking actress Dinara Drukarova, known to discerning moviegoers as the resourceful Russian child in Vitali Kanevsky’s terrific Freeze, Die, Come to Life. There’s a missing suitcase, frequent flashbacks to beautifully framed childhood trauma in an autumnal forest, and scads of serial betrayal. It’s all very Nouvelle Vague, but though McGee clearly has talent, it’s not at all clear that he has a subject beyond the skillful creation of cinematically mid-Atlantic mood leavened with self-conscious comic business. In the absence of something to think about, it’s fun to watch Jacob, who at 40 has matured from the seraphic but somewhat vacant young muse of Krzysztof Kieslowski in The Double Life of Véronique into a rougher but more substantial beauty that could make her a worthy successor to Charlotte Rampling. (Westside Pavilion) (Ella Taylor)
GO THE HEART OF THE GAME Ward Serrill set out to make a short documentary about the girls’ basketball team at Roosevelt High School in Seattle and especially its coach, Bill Resler, a tax professor with no experience. But a season later, Serrill encountered Darnellia Russell, who ended up the star of the team and the star of a movie bound up not just in the X’s and O’s of winning, but the politics of race, gender, and class. The Heart of the Game is a sweet, engaging journey with the Roosevelt Roughriders, whose kindly coach encourages the girls to snarl like wolves and devour like lions. Resler’s still at the heart of the movie, only now he shares it with Russell, a phenom who left her friends behind to play ball at a crosstown rival populated by white girls. The film has its bleak moments, but it aspires to inspire and uplift; you revel in the moment when the girls discuss their reluctance to touch each other on the court, and their eventual love for the pushing and shoving of hardwood war. (ArcLight) (Robert Wilonsky)
THE KING The first fully narrative feature by director James Marsh, who previously made the striking fact/fiction hybrid Wisconsin Death Trip, is a lurid, overheated Southern Gothic that wallows in its own unpleasantness like a pig in shit, then tries to pass itself off as a high-minded treatise about guilt and redemption. Gael García Bernal plays Elvis (not Presley), newly discharged from the Navy and making his way back to his Texas hometown, where he hopes to locate the father (William Hurt) who bore him illegitimately and who’s now a respected Baptist preacher complete with picture-perfect wife (Laura Harring), Christian rocker son (Paul Dano) and lissome teenage daughter (Pell James). As played by Bernal, Elvis couldn’t be a more obvious snake in this latter-day Eden if he hissed and stuck out his tongue, yet Marsh (who also co-wrote the script with Monster’s Ball scribe Milo Addica) almost seems to prefer him to the rest of the characters, who are uniformly held in contempt by the director for their Bible-banging ways. Incest and patricidal impulses are not far at hand, along with the guarantee that everyone will behave in a manner sure to cause the maximum possible suffering for themselves and their loved ones. At one point, Bernal stabs someone in the gut and asks “How does it feel?” — which is more or less what The King does to the audience for the entire two hours it’s onscreen. (Sunset 5) (Scott Foundas)
THE LONG WEEKEND Remember the early-’90s HBO comedy series Dream On, conceived by John Landis as an excuse to reuse old TV clips from the Universal vaults in the service of a contemporary sex comedy? Same idea here, except the clips being recycled are unused submissions to America’s Funniest Home Videos, mostly depicting animals grabbing their genitals or people accidentally setting themselves on fire. Oh sure, that sounds like fun, but rather than simply releasing the uncomfortably amusing clips on DVD as a Jackass-style compilation, executive producer Vin Di Bona and Gold Circle Films president Paul Brooks have spliced them into the umpteenth unfunny cinematic variation of the “sensitive guy and obnoxious womanizing best friend try to get laid” story, with nary a laugh to be had unless you’re one of those who finds toilet scenes and prison-rape jokes to be automatically hilarious. (Director-for-hire Pat Holden loves ’em). Brendan Fehr is the introverted advertising executive trying to save his job and stop pining for his ex, while Chris Klein puts a whole lot of energy into being unfunny as his crazy brother with a penchant for wacky misadventures. The worst part is the clips aren’t even used all that much — they’re explained away as old home movies, which could have been a funny idea if the filmmakers had shown the brothers living near the zoo with a bunch of pyromaniacs. But alas, no. (Fairfax; One Colorado; Fallbrook 7) (Luke Y. Thompson)
THE OMEN With the double-whammy of The Omen and Superman Returns, director Richard Donner holds the unique distinction of seeing sequels or remakes of two of his most popular films arrive in theaters in the space of a fortnight. For those interested in keeping score, round one goes handily to Donner. Released in 1976 on the coattails of the demon-child craze ignited by Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, the original Omen may not have been a masterpiece of modern horror, but it was a classy, creepy affair, gussied up with lively character turns by the likes of David Warner, Leo McKern and Billie Whitelaw — and oh, that apocalyptic Jerry Goldsmith music! Unwisely taking a page from the Gus Van Sant Psycho primer, Irish director John Moore slavishly reproduces the Donner film almost shot for shot and line for line, with Liev Schreiber stepping uncertainly into the shoes of Gregory Peck, as the American diplomat in Rome who, rather than telling his wife (Julia Stiles, pinch-hitting for Lee Remick) that she’s had a miscarriage, unwisely accepts a hospital priest’s offering of a supposedly orphaned baby boy. The actors sleepwalk through their roles (save for Rosemary herself, Mia Farrow, chewing the scenery with termitelike gusto as the boy’s satanic protector), while Moore, who previously directed Behind Enemy Lines and the Flight of the Phoenix remake, seems completely at a loss without any planes to crash. By the time Schreiber finally gets around to checking his adopted son’s head for the mark of the beast, I was checking my watch. Recommended only for those without DVD players or who refuse on principle to see any movie made before they were born. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)
THE WHORE’S SON Ozren (Stanislav Lisnic), the sensitive young émigré from the former Yugoslavia at the center of this likable trifle by Austrian director Michael Sturminger, lives inside a Freudian prison — appropriately enough in Vienna — where he worships his glamorous mother, Silvija (played by the exquisite Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova), a hooker and a loving, if erratic, parent. A whole village of strenuously colorful types raises Ozren in his cramped apartment above a brothel, but he only has eyes for mom, which creates problems when she takes off, leaving no address, to set up shop as a pricey call girl on the other side of the tracks. Which rather undercuts the conceit that these are ordinary, decent people living lives — as prostitutes, garbage men and pimps — as best they can. Despite a contrived creakiness in the plot, a climax all too broadly hinted at in the opening scene and the occasional dive into blowzy-hooker cliché, some characters are nicely observed, especially Ozren’s Uncle Ante (Miki Manojlovic), instinctively tolerant yet clinging pathetically to the tattered shreds of communism. In the end, Sturminger’s virginal insistence on draining the mother-son relationship of all eros also drains it of interest. (Music Hall) (Ella Taylor)
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