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Film Reviews: Arctic Tale, One to Another, Punk's Not Dead

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

ARCTIC TALE A smarmy score (“We Are Family” when it ought to be “Stayin’ Alive”), some orgiastic farting from a herd of walruses and a modicum of cutesy anthropomorphism from narrator Queen Latifah prove a small price to pay for this stunningly photographed documentary about a year in the endangered life of an Arctic ice floe. With 15 years of experience in the area, Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson shoot around, inside and underneath the compromised habitat of Nanu, a polar bear cub, and Seela, an enchanting jolie-laide walrus calf weighing several hundred pounds, as they and their mothers try to survive in hunting grounds that may lose all their ice by the year 2040 if we don’t mend our anti-green ways. G-rated or not, Arctic Tale is admirably hard-headed about the dog-eat-dog call of the wild. The movie’s bracing account of the blend of altruism and aggression that is animal domestic life, and the sheer diversity of family forms (bear cubs are raised by single mothers, walruses by mothers and self-sacrificing “aunts”), may be enough to place it on the shitlist of the evangelical right. Diminishing resources encourage civil war: The movie’s most heartbreaking moment comes when, two years ahead of developmental schedule, Nanu’s hitherto protective mother has to put a steely glint in her eyes and scare her underprepared daughter into self-sufficiency because she can’t feed them both. As agitprop alone, Arctic Tale must be doing something right: Coming out of the theater, my daughter’s pal grabbed my cell phone to call home and check that her family owned a hybrid, while my own child menaced me with “Shorter showers, Mom, okay?” (Selected theaters) (Ella Taylor)

GIRL 27 Knowing what we know about the unfettered power and corruption of pre–World War II Hollywood studios, it’s hardly a shock to learn that MGM, under the management of the notoriously thuggish Eddie Mannix (memorably brought to life last year by Bob Hoskins in Allen Coulter’s Hollywoodland), threw a wild party in 1937 for its salesmen, to whom they fed a bevy of mostly underaged chorus girls. Or that one of them, 15-year-old Patricia Douglas, was brutally raped by a salesman, and when she had the guts to file suit, provoked a huge smear campaign and cover-up by the studio, after which she disappeared for good. On the basis of his thorough but feverish Vanity Fair piece about the scandal, television writer David Stenn has made an even more overheated documentary that’s not without fascination, in part because he’s dug up extraordinary footage that features Douglas and her attacker. He also dug up Douglas herself, and it’s her story that dominates the movie. It’s not clear that Douglas, already “platonic mascot” for movie stars well before the party, was as much of an ingénue as Stenn, who has written biographies of Jean Harlow and Clara Bow and insists on giving himself a spurious role in the drama, makes her out to be. But she was undoubtedly a victim, not only of her rapist but of her stage mother and the whole tawdry milieu in which they moved. The saddest thing about Girl 27 is the way that Douglas’ travails have blighted her life, and those of her own children. (Music Hall) (Ella Taylor)

I KNOW WHO KILLED ME Watch the mallrats’ jaws drop as they pay to see the same old teen slicer-dicer, only to get this wacko hodgepodge of the Brian De Palma horror filmography and—I swear to God—Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique. Lindsay Lohan plays a demure honor student who gets abducted by a psycho and appears weeks later in a hospital bed, missing—well, let’s just say that piano scholarship may need rethinking. Worse, the girl not only has no memory of her past but claims to be someone else entirely—a jackpot for her horny jock boyfriend (Brian Geraghty), whose girlfriend suddenly morphs from a bashful abstinent into an exotic dancer hot to hit the pole. In short, it’s a gift-wrapped part for Lohan, who plays her good-girl/bad-girl role with wit and an air of sly calculation. Despite some disgusting (and obligatory) meatball surgery with rotting fingers and severed hands, this intriguing oddity directed by Chris Sivertson (The Lost) is less a shocker than a surreal, disjointed mood piece about teen alienation. The script even has the nerve to forsake the obvious solution for something much crazier and over-the-top—the kind of high-altitude nonsense that can only be explained onscreen by radio paranormal maven Art Bell via a Kafka allusion. Yes, it’s that kind of Lindsay Lohan movie. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

MACBETH There’s nothing so difficult or novel about restaging Shakespeare in modern dress — just add cell phones and iPods, button-snap cowboy shirts, Prada suits, and machine guns. The trick is to match the play with the period and setting, to mutually illuminate the Elizabethan and the modern. Films like 10 Things I Hate About You and Romeo + Juliet pulled it off; this Melbourne mobster adaptation of Macbeth — not so much. Director Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper) and co-writer Victoria Hill, who also plays Lady M., greatly abridge, turn soliloquy into voice-over and rearrange a few key speeches. None of which is a sin: Macbeth should remain a living, breathing document. But the rush into gunfights and car chases pushes the text in all the wrong directions. As written, the 400-year-old words are still fresher than anything ripped from Miami Vice. And what, really, don’t we already know about honor among thieves? Only in the movie’s later going, as the usurper (Sam Worthington) begins to bog down in blood, does the cast stop rushing its lines and the film move nearer to the topical and tragic. Only not near enough. The grim cycle of retribution, the vengeful orphan sons of Duncan and Banquo, the wailing widows — a more fitting adaptation would’ve been Macbeth in Mosul. (The Landmark) (Brian Miller)

MOLIÈRE Like many geniuses of comedy, France’s pre-eminent 17th-century playwright always felt like a tragedian manqué — a vanity that, had he pursued it, would have left the world bereft of some of theater’s greatest pomposity-busting satire. Historians have never solved the mystery of Molière’s temporary disappearance early on in his career, but director Laurent Tirard fills the gap with an imagined sojourn of the cash-strapped fledgling artist (an awkward Romain Duris) on the estate of a dilettante dope of a blue blood (the incomparable Fabrice Luchini) whose attempts to rope “Monsieur Tartuffe” into impressing a tart-tongued courtesan (Ludivine Sagnier) lay the groundwork for Molière’s most famous farce. Tirard unwinds the action slow and steady, which makes for a slackly paced first hour that all but destroys the movie. Hang in and you’ll see the method in this seemingly perverse strategy, as the young blade grows a passion for the highly strung, cultivated lady of the house, beautifully played by Europe’s reigning queen of barely suppressed hysteria, Laura Morante. In the end, Molière is as much about the making of a patroness as it is about the gestation of artistic form, for it’s she who eggs on the callow playwright to reinvent comedy as serious business with a powerful moral core. (Royal; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

 NO RESERVATIONS In this by-the-recipe remake of 2001’s German chocolate cake Mostly Martha, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Kate, a top chef in New York City who rules her kitchen with a cast-iron fist. She wants to be alone, so, of course, her perfectly unencumbered existence is thrown into chaos with the death of her sister, who has willed to Kate her perfectly precocious 9-year-old niece, Zoe (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin). At first, naturally, theirs is an uneasy relationship — relative stranger living with relative stranger, neither of whom wants the other around. Then Kate decides to start taking Zoe to the restaurant — where she discovers in her sacred space a new chef named Nick (Aaron Eckhart), whose tousled bangs hang so low you’re amazed he can see what he’s cooking. The guy’s so sweet it’s astounding he isn’t shot in soft focus; Nick won’t take Kate’s gig, despite their boss’s desires, only everything else she’s got — her heart and the kid too. The cynic would like to write this off as empty grown-up hooey — Baby Boom without an ounce of bang. But you can’t do it, because the thing’s so charming and frothy and delightful and sentimental and beautifully shot and well-acted and sincere that it takes a good long while before you start craving real nourishment, and during this disheartening season of overheated air-conditioned diversions, that passes for an unparalleled feat of artistic achievement.  (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky) For the full review, see film feature.

ONE TO ANOTHER Part sun-glazed remembrance of youth, part discursive murder mystery, the third (and most impressive) feature co-directed by Franco-American actor Jean-Marc Barr and screenwriter Pascal Arnold offers up an uncommonly sensual and disquieting take on a familiar youth-movie theme: how the cocoon of adolescent sexual awakening can be torn apart by violent desire. The film’s bifurcated narrative follows the investigation into the disappearance of the magnetic Pierre (Arthur Dupont), while flashing back to Pierre’s last days in the company of his three best mates and his sister, Lucie (Lizzie Brocheré). The flashbacks unfold over a long, hot summer in which the five friends beat the heat by skinny dipping, basking nude in the sun, and hopping in and out of each other’s beds in dizzying permutations of incest and pansexuality — until the two halves of the film collide in a chilling, if not entirely surprising, revelation. Although One to Another takes its inspiration from a real-life French homicide case, it’s clear that Barr and Arnold aspire to the realm of modern mythology: Their Pierre is one of those bright, golden youths who seem doomed to unduly brief lives, and in his end we may see our own inevitable fall from the garden. (Sunset 5) (Scott Foundas)

PUNK’S NOT DEAD At a time when what passes for a punk icon is a Good Charlotte schmuck who could very well be Nicole Richie’s baby daddy, what kind of asshole puts out a film called Punk’s Not Dead? Turns out this asshole is none other than erstwhile D.C. punk photographer Susan Dynner — someone who knows the difference between the Stranglers and Green Day. Dynner doesn’t have delusions about the current state of punk — as Pennywise guitarist Fletcher Dragge points out, when you dye your hair green in 2007, “You’re not scaring your mom, your mom takes you to get it.” And she doesn’t ignore punk’s never-ending contradictions. How can you sing about the injuries of class and be sponsored by Vans? When Avril Lavigne’s Sum 41 husband admits that he has to call his band “pop-punk,” not punk, so his heroes won’t make fun of him, you have to wonder how a subculture formed as a refuge for the excluded became so exclusive. Where Punk’s Not Dead comes up short is on the bigger questions. A community founded on rebellion, anger and studded leather has lasted for more than 30 years, but what has it actually changed? The only answer present here: Now there’s Hot Topic. (Sunset 5) (Camille Dodero)

PICK THE REAL DIRT ON FARMER JOHN It’s fascinating that this portrait of the rise, fall and rise of Midwestern organic farmer John Peterson can be read in so many different ways, only some of which appear intentionally in Taggart Siegel’s sympathetic documentary about his friend and fellow artist. Shot in multimedia over nearly three decades with the mostly enthusiastic, occasionally crabby participation of its kooky subject, The Real Dirt on Farmer John­ weaves the giddily dramatic — and self-dramatizing — personal history of a hippie-inspired eccentric who fused art and agriculture into a chronicle, part inspiring, part devastating, of the collapse of traditional farming in rural America. Peterson’s multiple failures morph into multiple glories and back again, and his many faces refract the many faces of the counterculture, not all of them flattering. Is Peterson a lost soul whose father died too young, stunting his emotional development? Is he a closet case hiding behind an endlessly supportive mother and a fleet of look-alike girlfriends whose age remains the same as he grows older? A rotten businessman who bet the family farm and almost lost it, or a creative innovator who rose from the ashes to flourish in community-supported organic farming? A free-spirited romantic or a hopelessly irresponsible adventurer? A typical Midwesterner or a renegade whose neighbors accused him of sponsoring a satanic cult? All of the above, and more. Notwithstanding the pink boas and bumblebee outfits he favors while plowing his beloved land, it would be hard to find a mug more ordinary than Peterson’s, and that’s the point. Dress-up or no dress-up, look for the real dirt on anyone over 40, and you’ll find high melodrama, low comedy and the imprint of a changing world that defies private intentions. (Music Hall) (Ella Taylor)

THE SIMPSON'S MOVIE See film feature

WHO’S YOUR CADDY?  Name this movie: an up-and-comer from the city buys his way into a high-class country club, but the WASPy club president won’t stand for it. Meanwhile, a poor young caddy is secretly the best player on the course. When the parvenu and the WASP finally decide to settle it all with a high-stakes match out on the links, the caddy steps in to make sure our hero wins. No, it’s not Caddyshack — just swap Jews (Rodney Dangerfield) for blacks (Big Boi) and you’ve got Who’s Your Caddy?. The movie, of course, is terrible; God knows why the writers went to the trouble of “improving” on the plot, giving Big Boi, unlike Dangerfield, some deep motivation (he’s trying to revenge his father, an old-time caddy who was kicked off the course) and adding...midgets. (Citywide) (Charles Petersen)

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