BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE Theres no official rule which says that werewolf movies have to be boring, but it doesnt seem like anyone has tried particularly hard in a long, long time. Blood and Chocolate does nothing to buck the trend. Looking as bored as the viewer is likely to feel, Agnes Bruckner goes through the motions as Vivian, a Hungarian-American werewolf in Bucharest who inexplicably falls for a dumb-ass comic-book artist named Aiden (Hugh Dancy, who looks more like a boy-band refugee than your typical geek). The head werewolf (Olivier Martinez) lives in an absinthe factory. The beastly transformations are accomplished via circa-1980 camera dissolves. And there are multiple pathetic attempts at faking martial-art-du-jour Parkour. At one point, Aiden says to Vivian, If you cared a goddamn thing about me, youd have left me before we ever met! By the same logic, dear reader, if you care a goddamn thing about your evenings entertainment, youll walk out of this howler before you ever buy a ticket. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)
CATCH AND RELEASE In the small pantheon of successful women screenwriters, Susannah Grant is aristocracy. But the muscular dialogue that fed so many great lines to Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich and Cameron Diaz in In Her Shoes goes AWOL in Grants directing debut, a slack dramedy about a young woman (Jennifer Garner) whose grief for her dead fiancé theyre called Gray and Grady, respectively, which doesnt bode well is assuaged not by the usual band of earth mothers, but by his three buddies, each of whom suffers in his own strenuously odd way. This mildly fresh premise never takes off, in part because Grant flashes most of her emotional cards in the first half-hour, leaving all the characters to rot in underdeveloped eccentricity. Garner is no more than serviceable as the tightly wound Gray, unwinding in the arms of Gradys lothario friend Fritz, very badly played by Timothy Olyphant (a disconcerting cross between Billy Zane and Sir Cliff Richard with a lot invested in grating raffish charm). Kevin Smith is a dreary inverse of his Silent Bob character as the good-hearted Fat Friend who stops gabbing only when hes scarfing down leftover pizza, while Juliette Lewis salvages what scraps she can from her role as a New Age L.A. ditz. Revelations pile up, followed by insight and maturity, and pretty soon theres nothing left to do but go fishing in scenic Colorado and be really, really nice to your friends. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)
EPIC MOVIE The speeds of sound and light remain constants, but the speed of crap accelerates like a rocket luge on Crisco Mountain. Seriously, the daddy of the (blank)-movie genre, 1980s Airplane!, stocked its pop culture arsenal with references to 1957s Zero Hour, 1970s Airport, and 1975s Jaws. By contrast, this ostensible parody of big-budget adventures (specifically The Chronicles of Narnia) reaches all the way back to last Mays The Da Vinci Code, Julys Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Octobers Borat. (Borat?!) Just like the filmmakers previous Date Movie, this feeble fast-buck shitbomb is an amateur-hour game of Spot That Reference, intended for people who crack up simply at the mention of anything topical sudoku, Lazy Sunday, Cribs. Which means that by the time this dud drops on NetFlix, itll be as obsolete as a Chia pet jokebook. The only bright spot: Darrell Hammonds spot-on demolition of Johnny Depps Captain Jack Sparrow, uncanny right down to his swashbuckling dying gesture. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)
FUNNY MONEY In a farce, the comic action typically occurs in a house with an enormous living room and lots of side doors, through which assorted characters, in a manic flurry of confusion and mistaken identities, can be abruptly flung. In Funny Money, an American adaptation of Englishman Ray Cooneys hit play, thats the fate awaiting two detectives (Armand Assante and Kevin Sussman) who arrive, separately, at the Hoboken home of Henry Perkins (Chevy Chase), a wax-fruit-factory foreman with plans to upend his humdrum life by absconding with a briefcase full of Mob money thats inadvertently come his way. Henrys plan sends his wife Carol (Penelope Ann Miller) straight to the whiskey bottle, and if ones interest in this never-hilarious but often-quite-amusing film fades in the home stretch it may be because director Leslie Greif and co-writer Harry Basil make the mistake of sending Carol upstairs to pass out, thereby losing out on more of Millers revelatory comic timing. Shes terrific, as is Chase, who is more relaxed and generous than hes ever been, as if having taken seven years off to stay home with his daughters has reminded this perennial scene gobbler that there are pleasures to be found in letting the other guy score the laugh. (Beverly Center; One Colorado; Regal Irvine; Agoura 8) (Chuck Wilson)
PICK G.I. JESUS A young Marine named Jesus (Joe Arquette) survives honorable service in Iraq, but the year away has left a scar on his marriage to Claudia (Patrícia Mota): The passionate spark is still there, but another man is circling, and there are hints Claudia leads two lives. His little daughter Marina (Telana Lynum) loves him but a ghostly stranger named Mohammed (Maurizio Farhad) now frequently appears (only Jesus can see him) to quietly scorch his conscience over a father and daughter Jesus killed by chance and without malice in a Fallujah-like firefight. As a Mexican who enlisted to secure U.S. citizenship, Jesus suffers further when hes ordered back to Iraq. He will absolutely lose his family if he leaves them for another year. As these pressures become murderous, writer-director Carl Colpaert never loses his balance, despite the David Lynchian leap of faith he asks us to make midway, in a twist so bold as to be a backflip. If anything, this extra layer in the story effectively illuminates the moral choices Jesus must navigate. In 2006, I was on the jury at CineVegas, which gave top prize to G.I. Jesus , because Colpaert has so vividly seized the contemporary moment, and explored it with his own eyes and conscience. He has also brought together a flawless cast: Arquette, Mota, Lynum and Farhad are phenomenally gifted, each an exciting new discovery. And hes brought it all off on a shoestring budget. In the time since, Colpaert (best known as the producer of Gas, Food Lodging , Mi Vida Loca and The Whole Wide World ) has painstakingly reworked the film technically (which he shot on HDDV) to eliminate the once-flaring reds that distorted the action. The imagery is now crisp and feels filmic. Whenever theres a bit of video-esque texture, it seems freely chosen, thematically appropriate to a war we know mostly through video, and more importantly innate to a story that asks us to sort out just what is real in war, and in having a conscience. (Showtimes) (F.X. Feeney)
THE HITCHER What, have we already exhausted the worlds reserves of recyclable 1970s schlock? Apparently not, given the poster in the megaplex lobby for the goddamn The Hills Have Eyes II. But nobody told music-vid whiz Dave Meyers, who sets his way-back machine for dimly remembered 1986 and fetches a beat-for-beat remake of Robert Harmons sick, scary cult fave about a cross-country driver who picks up a hitchhiking Terminator on a homicide spree. Sean Bean, stubbly and sinister but no match for Rutger Hauers archangel-of-death gravitas, plays the unexplained psycho, who slaughters cops and civilians aplenty as he dares motorists Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton to retire his opposable digits. (If the idea was to create a reactionary fable of unmitigated evil laughing in the face of dithering appeasement, mission accomplished.) Alas, switching the hero from a lone driver to a couple spoils the originals most intriguing idea: that the mass-murdering jackal may be the drivers own escaped id. That leaves little to fill 83 expendable minutes, which barely register as a movie even with snazzy KNB gore effects, critic-baiting clips from The Birds, a splattery variation on the 86 Hitchers most notorious scene, and some out-of-place Bruckheimerisms on loan from producer Michael Bay. Meyers lays on the shallow focus with a dusting of the art-directed scuzz that passes for grind-house revivalism nowadays, but to little avail: This Hitcher is all thumbs. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)
MAFIOSO Alberto Lattuadas Mafioso dates from 1962, but this nearly forgotten dark comedy could be the most modern (or at least modernist) movie in town. The sort of man who admonishes a worker for laboring too fast and shaves while polishing his shoes and talking nonstop, Alberto Sordis character is a wildly successful Sicilian transplant living in Milan complete with a chic Northern wife (Brazilian actress Norma Bengell) and two blond children. Modern times turn feudal once he returns to his home village for a vacation. Wife and kids are swept up in a series of screaming reunions and huge meals. Always voluble, he becomes borderline hysterical, his Northern persona disintegrating as he abruptly bursts into song upon his return. Lattuada satirizes Sicily as he acknowledges Northern prejudices, but the light comedy shifts when, out with his family in a boat, Sordi is summoned to the don by an unseen messenger. Mafioso was seemingly the first Italian movie to portray the modern Mafia, and its a blueprint for The Godfather in sardonic, compressed, anecdotal form. Given the movies virtual dictionary of Mafia euphemisms, its hard to believe that Mario Puzo hadnt seen it when writing his novel. (Royal) (J. Hoberman)
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SALAAM-E-ISHQ: A SALUTE TO LOVE Writer-director Nikhil Advani (Kal Ho Naa Ho) cuts with crisp elegance between six passionate love stories in this master-class, South Asian Extreme version of a tear-streaked Bollywood music drama. The nominal leads, Priyanka Chopra and Salman Khan, are as sleek and sexy as theyve ever been (which is saying a lot) in the screwball comedy anchor plot about a spoiled Mumbai movie star and the mysterious stranger who is pursuing her. The playfulness of that storyline frees the movie to track some much darker emotions in the various subplots, the most engaging of which feature the deep-welled 80s leading man Anil Kapoor (1942: A Love Story) as a catatonically depressed London TV producer contemplating an affair; heartthrob John Abraham (Water) as a devastated husband nursing his wife after an accident; and comedy star Govinda (Coolie No. 1) as a motor-mouth Delhi tax driver whose faith in romance is rewarded by the seemingly magical appearance of the leggy blonde foreign woman of his dreams. With so many chances to burrow under our defenses, Salaam-e-Ishq should be a delirious wallow, but it isnt quite, although the musical sequences in particular evoke an impressive variety of moods. The celebratory air of a mid-film production number in which the protagonists of all six stories, in as many different locations, sing and dance to the soaring title tune, contrasts sharply with a later interlude in which the affairs all hit a bad patch and the music becomes a wailed prayer: Oh God, is this love or punishment? In a Bollywood movie, scenes like these arent one-off stunts, as they can be in American movies such as Magnolia. Here they express a deep-rooted sense that all these lovers, and many more besides, are all dancing to the same cosmic tune. (Fallbrook 7; Naz 8; Laguna Hills 3.) (David Chute)
SERAPHIM FALLS You have to love the casting of Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson two Irishmen as Civil War vets sprinting across the Western plains, with Neeson the pursuer and Brosnan the pursued. The whole project, filled with familiar faces (Angie Harmon, Anjelica Huston, other Hey, its that guy! actors) in teensy roles, reeks of old-fashioned Big Studio entertainment this could have been made sometime between, oh, 1953 and 1978, and danged if you (or your dad) wouldnt watch it on late-night TV. Directed by a maker of no surprise TV procedurals (David von Ancken), Seraphim Falls has decent pep in its step until the final 30 minutes, when its finally revealed why Neesons bounty hunter is after Brosnans surly mountain man. The flashback finale and all that comes after (and keeps on comin) drags on so long that even the actors look exhausted. Before that, the movie is yet another replay of The Most Dangerous Game, and Brosnan and Neeson are game for it. My wife suggests that Brosnan, who takes a dip in icy white water and treks from frigid mountaintops to arid deserts among his myriad deeds of derring-do, should have been paid a small fortune, since he gets the shit beat out of him. Neeson too is a credible hero or is that villain? See, were never sure whos who till the end, and even then, von Ancken aint achin to pick sides. (Selected theaters) (Robert Wilonsky)
SMOKIN ACES Writer-director Joe Carnahans third and most elaborate feature presents as its antihero a glitzy stage magician cum mobster mascot turned Mob kingpin then FBI informer. Buddy Aces Israel (Jeremy Piven) is, as someone in this overstuffed baloney-and-ketchup sandwich puts it, the great white whale of snitches. Everyone wants a piece of this jokers hide, which, given its rumored million-dollar price tag, makes the Lake Tahoe penthouse where hes laying low something of a magnet for a gaggle of competing hit squads. To add to the barbarism, the killers have orders to not just ice Israel but pace Mel Gibson to cut out his heart. Let the games begin. Smokin Aces has no particular narrative: Its basically a study in convergence as a vast assortment of FBI guys, hotel security men, SWAT teams, and killers of all varieties including a clan of lunatic chain-saw neo-Nazi mohawk-coiffed punks fight, claw and swarm their way up to Israels suite. Self-important but not untalented, the movie is tonally consistent from beginning to end, and, for all its bloody mayhem, kinetic nihilism and jive minstrelsy, has a surprisingly light touch. What Carnahans picture lacks in hilarity, it recuperates with a well-developed, albeit mumbling, sense of the absurd. (Citywide) (J. Hoberman)
PICK VERDICT ON AUSCHWITZ: ?THE FRANKFURT-AUSCHWITZ TRIAL 196365 If you pay any attention at all to Holocaust history, therell be few surprises in the actual evidence about the biggest site of Hitlers Final Solution offered in this three-hour exhumation (shortened from a much longer 1993 version) of the trial of former Nazi apparatchiks at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Consider the context, though, and this German-made documentary becomes a fascinating record via a two-year Frankfurt courtroom drama less splashy than either the Nuremberg or Eichmann trials that preceded it of the countrys awkward baby steps toward confronting its hideous legacy. Culling from 430 hours of audio recordings and limited archive footage from the proceedings, as well as interviews with observers and participants, filmmakers Rolf Bickel and Dietrich Wagner provide a deconstruction of the mechanics of life at Auschwitz so exhaustive, it would make Claude Lanzmann proud. Verdict on Auschwitz dwells properly on the uniform mendacity and lack of remorse among the functionaries who ran the Third Reichs most efficient charnel house liars and cowards all, long after the fact. In testimony after testimony, often delivered in chillingly dispassionate tones by former victims about their treatment by sadists who went way beyond their brief, the film handily dispatches the notion that those who ran the camps were just following orders. The big fat elephant in the room is the courts heavy emphasis on the perpetrators and nervous avoidance of the word Jew. Still, this is required viewing for everyone, especially for David Irving, Mel Gibsons dad and all other profane deniers of a bloody centurys bloodiest genocide. (Grande 4-Plex) (Ella Taylor)