Film Reviews

Unholy Smoke (Zade Rosenthal/New Line Productions)

BROKEN SKY If you’ve ever observed a couple in public staring impassively at one another and wondered what the story was behind their gaze, you might be the ideal audience for writer-director Julián Hernández’s meditative, almost silent romantic drama. The thin plot concerns two university students, Gerardo (Miguel Ángel Hoppe) and Jonás (Fernando Arroyo), who share an instant sexual attraction and quickly become madly infatuated with one another as only the young can. Although we can safely guess that their love will disintegrate as quickly as it blossomed, Hernández doesn’t display any wised-up cynicism toward his characters. In fact, he audaciously honors their doomed affair as the stuff of grand tragedy. Decorating the movie’s corners with Arturo Villela’s mournful score, Hernández shoots most of Broken Sky without dialogue, and the result is a film dripping with melodrama and pretension. For a while, the stylistic choices work: Without judgment, Hernández and his actors superbly capture what your first adult romantic relationship feels like — how its thick dreamstate blocks out the world around it, cultivating emotional instability, irrationality and the inherent mystery of trying to understand the person you’re sleeping with. But at 140 minutes, Broken Sky’s experimental novelty can only hold you for so long. Hernández purposely leaves his characters nondescript so as to universalize their situation, but it’s hard to swoon over these lovebirds when we have no hint of their inner lives. All in all, a striking, memorable disappointment — not unlike so many first loves. (Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)

 CAUTIVA Cautiva belongs to that category of historical and political films that try to both illuminate the bloody dictatorships that have dotted the Latin American landscape and honor the lives shattered by their brutality. The setting here is Argentina, and the focus is on teenage Christina (Barbara Lombardo), who is pulled out of class one day and informed that the people she knows as her parents are not, and that she’s actually the daughter of two “disappeared” college students. From that point, writer-director Gaston Biraben methodically unravels the comfortable life woven around Christina while gently pushing forth an agenda fueled by a muted outrage — he wants to make clear that the horrors inflicted in the past do not tidily disappear once dictators and their inhumane policies and practices are abolished. While Christina and the viewer grapple with the girl’s “adoptive” parents’ dicey recollections of the past, we also share her ambivalence about the biological family that so desperately claims her. At what cost moral justice? Should she suffer the collapse of the only life she’s ever known so that the balance sheet is corrected? Neither Biraben’s script nor his direction leave room for doubt as to how he feels about the nightmarish past, but he’s smart enough to know that even justified outrage sometimes has to be tempered with the complexities of human intentions and realities. The power of this intelligent, moving film lies precisely in his diving headfirst into those same complexities. (Music Hall; One Colorado) (Ernest Hardy)

DECK THE HALLS There is something about the holiday season that brings lazy filmmakers to pitch meetings with Frank Capra knockoffs clutched in their sweaty paws. ’Tis Noel in Massachusetts: Fake snow glistens hokily on every patch of, er, Vancouver ground while wholesome suburban couples like Steve and Kelly Finch (Matthew Broderick and Kristin Davis) lie chastely strapped to their marital bed, planning for the nth time the world’s most anally traditional family Christmas with their eye-rolling offspring. Enter vulgarian new neighbor Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito), a capable but discontented car salesman equipped with D-cupped wife (Kristin Chenoweth), twin blond bimbettes with eyes only for hot guys, and big dreams of Xmas house lights so bright, they’ll be seen from outer space. Male competitiveness surges hither and yon as tight-assed Steve and brassy Buddy try to outdo one another, watched in growing horror by their sensible families, quietly bonding in the background. Several hundred sight gags later, mounted with more enthusiasm than skill by director John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2) — burly cop in bra and thong, vomiting camel, sleigh run amok, that sort of thing — Buddy’s bedecked house is a high-tech gingerbread nightmare gone electronically hog-wild, while Steve stews helplessly in the juice of his own hubris until both see the error of their adolescent ways. It goes without saying that a Wonderful Life lurks in the wings, complete with freshly insightful people who need people, not glory. But what can be said of a movie whose idea of heartwarming is a host of cell phones twinkling in the night sky in lieu of fairy lights? And though DeVito and Chenoweth bring a rough plebeian charm to the proceedings that almost saves this dreary stretched-out sitcom, it’s nothing short of tragic to see the great Ferris Bueller relegated to grimacing straight man. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)


DÉJÀ VU So, yeah, Déjà Vu: You’ve seen it all before. Take that, Tony Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer! Except you haven’t quite. The story goes like this: The ferry blows up (seen it), Denzel Washington struts on the scene to investigate (seen it), clues are discovered (seen it), a dead girl is found under mysterious circumstances (seen it), Val Kilmer arrives looking kind of pudgy (...), everyone heads off to a top-secret government base and climbs into a gigantic spark plug. There, joined by the usual group of wiseass technicians, they begin to retrace events with the help of Snow White, a next-level surveillance system linked up, naturally, to seven satellites. The console renders real-time composite images of anything that happened four days ago, from any angle, through all obstacles, and in the visual vocabulary of the 21st-century blockbuster. Except that actually it’s a time machine. (Now here is something new.) Of course Scott and his screenwriters (Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio) are less interested in concepts to explore than high-concept gimmickry. But why complain when it results in a car chase that simultaneously blows shit up on two different time planes? (Citywide) (Nathan Lee)

DHOOM 2  Sanjay Gadhvi’s high tech heist thriller uses bits and pieces filched from the global action movie repertoire (M:I-2, Charlie’s Angels, et al.) to lend some cutting-edge flash to Bollywood’s loose-knit “cinema of attractions” format. Here, the action set pieces alternate smoothly with song-and-dance numbers and scenes of romance and broad comedy. The first Dhoom (a.k.a. Blast, in the sense of “having a…”) was a fast and furious motorcycle romp; this self-explanatory sequel is a globe-trotting succession of elaborate robbery and chase sequences. Judged purely as a crime movie, it’s a mess, littered with unanswered questions and dangling plot threads. As an entertainment that has more in common with a variety show than with a well-made narrative, it lives up to its title. In spite of all the CGI- and wire-assisted heavy lifting, the most impressive special effects here are the sinuously athletic dance moves of leading man Hrithek Roshan (Krrish), who plays the dashing cat burglar everyone else is chasing — a wall-climbing, sky-diving master of disguise. Eventually, he comes to share a John Woo-style adversarial bond with Bluffmaster star Abishek Bachchan, cast a cop so grimly businesslike that even his pals call him “Mr. Grumpy.” The women, including a startlingly slimmed-down and scantily clad Aishwarya Rai, are presented as little more than additional “attractions,” often in rain-spangled slow motion. But in a couple of intense encounters toward the end, Rai and Roshan, gazing at each other with their perfect profiles, revive a form of unselfconscious romantic fantasy that survives today almost exclusively in Bollywood. A movie meal as satisfying as this one can make you feel that nothing else matters. (Fallbrook 7; Naz 8; Laguna Hills 3) (David Chute)

FLANNEL PAJAMAS See film feature

THE FOUNTAIN See film feature

LET’S GO TO PRISON One doesn’t feel too optimistic about a film that titteringly names its protagonist Lyshitski, especially when all the trailers would have you believe the story’s a one-joke riff on the fear of a black penis. So perhaps it’s just a case of low expectations at work here, but Let’s Go to Prison is much funnier and weirder than you think. Directed by Mr. Show’s Bob Odenkirk, who doesn’t have much of an eye for cinematography or editing but knows a good joke when he hears one, it involves a harebrained revenge scheme conceived by a perpetual screwup (Dax Shepard) against the judge who regularly incarcerated him. Since the judge has died, our antihero plots to get the judge’s pompous son (Will Arnett) thrown in jail, then has himself sent back as well so he can make prison life even more miserable for the guy. Michael Shannon (last seen as World Trade Center’s heroic ex-Marine) is a standout here as a white supremacist with a fetish for forks, cannily mocking the obsessive zeal he’s shown in other roles. But Let’s Go to Prison is Shepard and Arnett’s show, and if they weren’t on everybody’s comedic radar before, they will be after this. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

LIVING THE DREAM An embarrassment of a vanity project, Living the Dream is a film written, directed and starring a real corporate headhunter. In his day job, Christian Schoyen runs an executive search firm, so he ponied up the money to make a film about the perils of — guess what? — running an executive search firm. Jonathan (Schoyen himself) and Brenda (Sean Young... yes, that Sean Young) are drifting through life in their 40s, still reeling from not being picked for teams in grade-school soccer games. These flashbacks to recess are the only explanations given for the characters’ motivation to team up and start their own venture: Global Recruitment. The two lie, cheat and steal their way into a fancy office building where they fail miserably at building a client base. In between sterile scenes about starting a small business are snippets of lame L.A. social satire (where we learn that bouncers are fickle and barflies shallow) and glimpses at Jonathan and Brenda’s depressing personal lives — naturally, as both star and producer, Schoyen includes a few sex scenes featuring himself and attractive, nude women. Allegedly, some proceeds from this movie, assuming there are any, will be donated to a homeless shelter. This gesture, however, does not excuse the wretchedness of Living the Dream, an independent feature told with all the poetry of a self-promoting Power Point presentation. (Sunset 5) (James C. Taylor)


OPAL DREAM Rush screaming from anything that announces itself as “a movie for children and grownups of all ages.” Slight and sweet unto shameless saccharine, Opal Dream is devoted to the proposition that it takes an Australian outback village to validate the imaginary friends of a blond child who is too sensitive for this world but not, alas, for this sappy movie. Adapted from what I suspect is a much better children’s novel by Ben Rice, the story turns on a family composed of two dreamers and two sensible helpmeets to sort things. Eight-year-old Kellyanne (Sapphire Boyce), an arty type who takes after her precious-stone-prospecting dad (Vince Colosimo), does the pale-and-consumptive thing when her ethereal buddies Pobby and Dingan disappear. Everything goes wrong, until suddenly everything goes right when Kellyanne’s practical brother Ashmol (Christian Byers) and their long-suffering mum (Jacqueline McKenzie) rustle up every crusty salt-of-the-earth type in their dusty village to bond in sympathy for the vanishing dreams of children large and small. Awkwardly directed by Peter Cattaneo, who also made The Full Monty,Opal Dream is burdened with lashings of that movie’s schmaltz, but none of its raucous comedy. Pardon my disbelief, but even G-rated tots will roll their worldly little eyes. (Westside Pavilion; One Colorado) (Ella Taylor)

PICK TENACIOUS D IN THE PICK OF DESTINY  This critic must admit to deciding fairly early on in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny that it would be impossible for him to dislike this movie. It was around the time — during the film’s opening musical number — that one of the critic’s own personal rock idols, erstwhile Black Sabbath front man Ronnie James Dio, made a cameo appearance in the form of an anthropomorphic wall poster, offering some words of rock-god wisdom to a 10-year-old metalhead by the name of JB (as in Jack Black). That sequence, which charts the young JB’s decision to pack his bags for Hollywood and turn his back on the sleepy Christian hamlet of Kickapoo, Mo., proves a far more rousing bit of musical storytelling than anything in the recent spate of Broadway-divined non-blockbusters. And a subsequent scene, in which the adult JB performs impromptu lyrics to future bandmate Kyle Gass’ guitar rendition of Bach’s Bourrées in E Minor, is nearly as euphoric. Nothing that follows in TDITPOD is quite as inspired — though, as a pre-credits sequence strongly suggests, the movie’s ambling slacker-stoner rhythms may play best to an audience in a chemically enhanced state of being. Co-scripted by Black, Gass and director Liam Lynch, this is effectively an origin story about how the self-proclaimed Greatest Band on Earth came to be (with a little help from Satan and Sasquatch), as the D search high and low for a cursed guitar pick that grants its bearer the ability to lay down superwicked licks. The Blues Brothers it is not, but in its best moments, the movie feels like a comic exaggeration of the real hardships that a couple of average, decidedly unhip guys went through on their unlikely way to the top. In their first big-screen outing, the D may not have conquered cinema in the way they’ve conquered music, but I for one would not begrudge them a return engagement. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas) (See film feature)

WALTZING ANNA You can despise the shabby care given in cut-rate assisted-living facilities; you can bemoan the lack of substantial films either about or for people over 60; and you can appreciate the big heart and noble intentions that went into a modest cinematic labor of love called Waltzing Anna — and still find the movie a maudlin horror, a perfect storm in which Patch Adams capsizes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Sporting a rumpled coif that threatens to turn into a Flock of Seagulls flopover, actor-writer-producer Robert Capelli Jr. plays a disgraced doctor reassigned to a nursing home that’s shady in more ways than the arboreal. Under the influence of a caring-cutie nurse (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and the lovably quirky patients (including consummate pros Pat Hingle and Betsy Palmer), he redeems himself by standing up to the crooked administrator (Murphy Brown’s Grant Shaud). The filmmakers care, the actors try; the closing dedication is heartfelt and sweet. The movie, sadly, is an IV drip of artery-clogging Lifetime movie-of-the-week goo. You’ll know when the hero’s heart has truly changed — he combs his hair. (Regent Showcase) (Jim Ridley)


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