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Film Reviews: Bridge to Terabithia, Daddy’s Little Girls and more

ANTIBODIES A vicious serial killer of children has been apprehended in Berlin, and at first that’s great news for Michael Martens (Wotan Wilke Möhring), a rural farmer and constable haunted by the unsolved murder of a local girl. Exultation turns to confusion, however, when the killer, Engel (André Hennicke), declares that he didn’t murder the girl but witnessed who did, thereby pulling Michael into a game of psychological cat-and-mouse. There are absurd but gripping plot twists aplenty in this German-language film from writer-director Christian Alvart, but its unexpected depth comes from Möhring’s moving portrait of a deeply religious, upright man — his troubled 13-year-old son might call him harsh and unloving — who’s both excited and dismayed by what he discovers about himself in the big city. There’s no question that Alvart’s story lifts from The Silence of the Lambs (as if in acknowledgment, Engel makes a Hannibal Lecter joke), and it’s true too that the filmmaker resorts to movie clichés when depicting Michael’s flirtation with his darker instincts. (Michael cheats on his wife with a Berlin woman and has anal sex with her — a sign of devilish depravity, apparently, for filmmakers worldwide.) The biblical quotes at the fade-out fall flat, and yet Antibodies is fairly riveting, thanks to Alvart’s command of craft and tone. He’s a director to watch. Cinephiles, take note: In the opening police raid, look for the face of the always-interesting American actor Norman Reedus, playing a cop who finds the final murdered child. Underused in Hollywood, Reedus is reportedly set to star in Alvart’s next film. (Beverly Center) (Chuck Wilson)

BLACK FRIDAY The underused Indian actor Kay Kay Menon is perfectly cast as a crisply correct detective keeping a tight lid on his seething anger in Black Friday, a rigorously naturalistic docudrama about a complex police investigation. The film is a methodical three-hour account of the mixture of luck, instinct and ruthlessness that allowed decorated investigator Rakesh Maria (Menon) and his crew to track down 168 conspirators in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts in only a few weeks’ time. The 10 powerful explosions had targeted government and business landmarks and were acts of retaliation for a wave of anti-Muslim violence by Hindu nationalists a few months earlier. One edge the cops had was that the bombings had been arranged not by Muslim fundamentalists but by an outlaw faction they understood a bit better: Muslim gangsters. An established smuggler and money launderer with connections in Pakistan, the mobster Tiger Memon (Pavan Malhotra) was equipped to organize the attacks with professional efficiency. Writer-director Anurag Kashyap has made only one other movie, the critically admired crime drama Paanch (2003), but he has worked as a screenwriter for both Ram Gopal Varma (Satya) and Mani Ratnam (Yuva), and there is impressive craftsmanship in his set pieces, such as a foot chase through the Bombay slums that goes on and on until both the suspect and his pursuers are on the verge of collapse. But the movie would be all crisp surfaces without the internal combustion of Menon, as a man who bears down on familiar procedures in order to avoid being overwhelmed by his emotions. (Naz 8) (David Chute)

THE BOY WHO CRIED BITCH: THE ADOLESCENT YEARS The boy in question is 16-year-old Steve (Adam LaVorgna, who’s 25 and looks it), and he doesn’t so much cry “bitch” as scream it, over and over, at his mousy, beleaguered mother, Adelle (Ronnie Farer). The oldest of three emotionally neglected trust-fund kids, Steve is bitter and mean and always in trouble, but rich enough to land in psych hospitals and not in the state pen. In and out he comes, for more yelling and threats against his mother, a character so pathetic that even Karen Black wouldn’t have played her. Finally, in the third act, Steve goes after Adelle, in a scene that’s hilariously over-the-top, although it’s clear that screenwriter Catherine May Levin and first-time director Matthew Levin II (relations, presumably) mean it all to be terribly serious. This is a decidedly bizarre movie, nicely photographed and designed — someone spent some money — but built entirely around dialogue so stilted and unrevealing that it’s little wonder poor LaVorgna screams it. I must confess that I got up to leave before the end, but found myself hanging back by the door, not quite able to tear my eyes away, as one will do when coming upon highway carnage. (Sunset 5) (Chuck Wilson)

BREACH See film feature (Showtimes)

  BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA Don’t be fooled by the CGI-laden, Narnia-lite trailers: Far from a computer-generated escapist fantasy, this film is an unpretentious and touching tale of preteen companionship and loss. Terabithia is the story of fifth-grade loner Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson), whose sensitive, artistic temperament isolates him from the towheaded bullies at school and his hardheaded father at home. Liberation from solitude comes in the form of sprightly Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), whose flair for fiction and exaggerated anime cuteness bring Jess out of his shell. The pair form a bond based on a made-up world located in the woods behind their homes. Director Gabor Csupo, of Rugrats fame, brings out nuanced performances from both Hutcherson and Robb, whose characters steer clear of cutesy tween stereotypes. But it’s Jess’ relationship with his father, played by Robert Patrick, that elevates Terabithia from a good kids’ movie to a classic contender. (Citywide) (Jessica Grose)

CAFE SÉTAREH Taking his cue from Jafar Panahi’s masterful women-in-prison drama The Circle, director Saman Moghadam offers up his own roundelay of Iranian women in lonely or oppressive circumstances — only here, instead of a jailhouse, their lives intersect at the titular coffee shop in an old part of Tehran. In the first story, the shop’s proprietress, the weary Fariba, slaves away to support her abusive husband’s drug addiction. In the second, the beautiful young Saloomeh prepares to marry the auto mechanic Ebi, who, worried that his job isn’t good enough for his bride, turns to crime. On a somewhat lighter note, the spinster landlady Moluk’s satellite TV always seems to be on the fritz whenever Fariba’s handsome brother Khosro is passing by. A popular (as opposed to “art house”) Iranian filmmaker with an elegant visual style and an astute grasp of soap-opera theatrics, Moghadam (Maxx) keeps Café Setareh bouncing along for a while, but as he shifts the story’s perspective from one woman to the next, he covers so much of the same narrative ground that we feel like we’ve seen it all before. By the time the third story comes around, you may crave a shot of espresso to keep you alert. (Music Hall) (Scott Foundas)

DADDY’S LITTLE GIRLS For his newest film, writer, director and occasional actor Tyler Perry stays behind the camera, choosing not to appear as his signature character — the meddling, no-nonsense granny, Madea. That old bitty can be annoying, but her brand of vim and vinegar is sorely missed in this sweet but dull romantic comedy. Set in Perry’s home city of Atlanta, Daddy’s Little Girls tracks the slow-building romance between Monty (Idris Elba), a mechanic battling his trashy wife for custody of their three daughters, and Julia (Gabrielle Union), a snooty uptown lawyer. Perry has great casting instincts, and in Elba and Union he’s matched two gifted, equally gorgeous actors, both of whom seem ready to make sparks fly. If only their director would let them. Instead, Perry clutches tight to his message-heavy, family-friendly storytelling template, with Monty and Julia forever kissing chastely, then rushing out to a neighborhood watch meeting about those pesky drug dealers on the corner. Perry means well, but his knowledge of the ‘hood isn’t exactly The Wire. He does, however, know a few things about onscreen sexual chemistry: One of these days, if we’re lucky, he’ll stop being a good Southern boy and set his lovers free to be their down and dirty grown-up selves. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)

DAYS OF GLORY (INDIGENES) As much a political as an aesthetic event, Rachid Bouchareb’s drama about the plight of Algerian soldiers who fought for France in World War II has been compared to Edward Zwick’s Glory. Structurally, though, the movie recalls earnest, period war movies like William Wellman’s 1945 Story of G.I. Joe, as it follows the brutal attrition of a single Algerian army unit fending off Nazis from Morocco through Italy and on into France, where their sacrifices for “the motherland” are rewarded with discrimination on every front. Days of Glory is as moving as it is ingenuous, with each doomed character symbolizing a different response to the collective dilemma these men face as Arabs with divided loyalties. Given their treatment, and the fact that the movie was made in part to shame the French government into restoring pensions it had cut when the former colony got its independence (the ploy worked), one has to wonder just how unalloyed Algerian loyalty could ever have been to its occupier. For the answer to that, look back, and forward, to The Battle of Algiers. (Royal) (Ella Taylor)

EKLAVYA: THE ROYAL GUARD See film feature

GHOST RIDER  Not as dreadful as the studio’s decision to withhold press screenings until less than 24 hours before opening day would suggest, but not especially good either, the latest big-screen adaptation of a long-running Marvel comics character is perhaps the most drearily conventional of the lot. It’s as if the writer-director, Mark Steven Johnson (responsible for the uninspired Daredevil and, incongruously, for scripting the Grumpy Old Men franchise), felt he were translating a sacrosanct text and that to sully it with so much as an ounce of irreverence or innovation would earn him eternal damnation in fanboy hell. So, instead of a buoyant, imaginative superhero movie on the order of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films or Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, we get a lumbering, paint-by-numbers origin story about how the Evel Knievel-style motorcycle jumper Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) sells his soul to the Devil (Peter Fonda) and, years later, finds himself transformed into a ghoulish nocturnal bounty hunter forced to do his master’s bidding. In theory, Blaze should be a uniquely morally conflicted anti-hero, but in Johnson’s hands he’s just another righteous avenger with a wicked cool ride and a nifty costume (or lack thereof, since he actually turns into a giant skeletal fireball). The movie itself is neither serious enough to take seriously nor fully clued-in to its own goofiness, despite the presence of American Beauty’s Wes Bentley as a demonic baddie who looks like a goth teen with overly permissive parents, and Eva Mendes as a latina Lois Lane one deep breath away from busting out of her costume and the movie’s PG-13 rating.  (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

HANNIBAL RISING Once upon a time, before Clarice and the fava beans, Hannibal Lecter was a wee Lithuanian lad orphaned during WWII and left in the wilds of Eastern Europe to fend for himself and his baby sister, Mischa. Until, that is, the day some gauche, gap-toothed army deserters showed up and turned Mischa into mincemeat. From there, this abysmal prequel to the Lecter trilogy — series creator Thomas Harris wrote the novel and the screenplay — follows the adolescent psycho-in-training as he attends medical school in Paris, engages in an oddly oedipal courtship with his Japanese aunt (Gong Li, who also teaches Hannibal some kick-ass martial-arts moves when he isn’t seducing her on her family’s ancestral altar) and, finally, embarks on a revenge odyssey so protracted as to make his namesake’s crossing of the Alps seem like a walk to the corner store. Hannibal Rising, which was directed by Peter Webber (Girl With a Pearl Earring), plays that old game of trying to engender sympathy for the devil by making his victims so loathsome that you don’t begrudge them a hasty demise. The killings are numbingly brutal, though, with endless close-ups (and sound effects) of bloody bowels and flesh being ripped from bone. And as played by French actor Gaspard Ulliel (who seems to have learned his English from watching one too many Bela Lugosi movies), this Hannibal is a stick-in-the-mud altogether lacking in the wit, gourmet appetites and romantic flair required of any surrogate for Sir Anthony Hopkins. By the end of two full hours, it’s only Harris’ head you long to see on a plate. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)

MUSIC AND LYRICS See film feature. (Showtimes)

 


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