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Film Reviews: Dynamite Warrior, License to Wed

Burtynsky turns his camera on Chinas Cankun factory. (Photo by Edward Burtynsky)

DYNAMITE WARRIOR For everyone who saw Tears of the Black Tiger and thought, “This could really use some rocket surfing, a leapfrogging tiger man, and a wizard dude with Astro Boy hair who can only be defeated with virgin-pure menstrual blood,” your wishes have been granted. Okay, maybe just mine: This wacko Thai import means to annihilate whatever brain cells survived all those sixth-grade viewings of Infra-Man. Another blast of Muay Thai mayhem — a martial art that to these untrained eyes looks like the ol’ knee-in-the-groin applied liberally to every other part of the body — from the makers of the mighty Ong-Bak, this one’s a som tum Western about a bandannaed bandit (Dan Chupong) who busts out his buffalo-rustling skillz to defeat an epicene lord (Thai pop star Leo Putt, not exactly rocking his Ed Grimley coif). And not a moment too soon: The bad guy, who’s prone to Liberace-style capering, intends to dominate the country with . . . tractors! Although snazzed up with some wire work and primo gunpowder fu, the fights are staged with all the grace of backyard wrestling, if the backyard’s in Snakebite, Alabama. But director Chalerm Wongpim’s skull buster makes up in wild-eyed insanity (and excessive, arbitrary slow motion) what it lacks in acting, pacing and coherence. Only one word describes a national cinema capable of producing Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wisit Sasanatieng, Tony Jaa and now a flying monkey man chasing a rocket-powered covered wagon: ideal. (Rialto) (Jim Ridley)


I HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN YOU: THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF SIMON WIESENTHAL Insider hagiography it undoubtedly is, but this profile of the late Simon Wiesenthal by Wiesenthal Center machers Richard Trank and Marvin Hier covers the field, give or take a gingerly glide over sticky controversies like whether the famed master Nazi hunter exaggerated his role in tracking down Adolf Eichmann, like his chasing of false leads to Josef Mengele, and his reluctance to go after Kurt Waldheim after the U.N. secretary-general’s close association with the Third Reich was revealed. Once you get over the heavy poundage of celebrity bytes from the ponderous likes of Ben Kingsley (who played Wiesenthal in an HBO movie) and Bill Clinton, Trank takes you on a fascinating journey from the Ukrainian village where Wiesenthal was born to the Mauthausen concentration camp from which he was liberated and subsequently began his pursuit of the 1,100 Nazi war criminals he helped prosecute. I Have Never Forgotten You doesn’t skirt the toll taken on his wife and daughter, but Trank fastidiously avoids more fundamental issues about the validity of vigilante justice and the role of temperament as well as experience in shaping this obsessive man, who always insisted that he was reaching for justice, not revenge. Wiesenthal suffered horribly and lost 89 family members to the Holocaust, but so did many others who put their energies into forgetting. Trank is so busy fashioning him as a superhero (other famous Nazi hunters like Beate Klarsfeld are barely mentioned) that little light is shed on the man’s relentlessness and his stubborn determination to keep his data center in Vienna even under siege from a shabby Austrian smear campaign. Nicole Kidman’s breathily reverential voice-over only irritates, in large measure because Wiesenthal, who died in 2005 but appears in copious interview footage, speaks so eloquently for himself. (Music Hall 3; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)


INTRODUCING THE DWIGHTS Brenda Blethyn’s trademark histrionics — maternal blubbering and drama-queen shrillness — worked smashingly for her intentionally trying role in Secrets & Lies, but her central performance in Introducing the Dwights sees these traits amped up to a rather squirmy 11. Misleadingly (if more interestingly) titled Clubland when it screened at this year’s Sundance, director Cherie Nowlan’s patchy Australian dramedy stars Blethyn as divorcée Jean, a once-famous bawdy comedian who can’t accept that she’s past her prime. Oblivious to how her egomaniacal control issues are cock blocking both of her sons, Jean is primarily stressing out strapping, 20-year-old mama’s boy Tim (Khan Chittenden), whose fear of losing his virginity to insecure but totally horny Jill (Emma Booth) takes an unintentionally oedipal bent whenever he runs home to support his mother’s Benny Hill–esque act instead. Other son Mark (Richard Wilson) is slightly brain damaged and dubiously written as the idiot-savant butt of many a gentle joke, which might have worked had the actor been more convincing (his girlfriend is played by a mentally retarded actress; why wasn’t he?). With its broad, toothless humor and ham-fisted fits of melodrama, this sitcom-grade embarrassment aims to dethrone Muriel’s Wedding as the quirky Aussie feel-gooder of all time, except it hurts too much to watch. (ArcLight; The Landmark) (Aaron Hillis)


JOSHUA See film feature


LICENSE TO WED A blitzed-looking man stumbling out of a screening of this dreadful excuse for unromantic comedy volunteered that the best part of the movie was when Robin Williams got socked in the jaw. Couldn’t agree more, but if you like your Williams spewing rat-a-tat gags and substituting standup for acting, you’ll love him as an obsessive priest bearing down on a dewy-eyed engaged couple (Mandy Moore and The Office’s John Krasinski) in Ken Kwapis’ high-concept, low-minded riff on the current vogue for marriage-prep classes. Mistaking sadism for satire, sight gags for physical comedy, and stupidity for good nature, the movie has the Rev drive a wedge between the happy couple by spying on them, banning them from sex and equipping them with animatronic babies emitting blue poop — all designed to bring them the shocking news that weddings may be fun, but marriage is serious business. Moore, who made a great high school meanie in The Princess Diaries and Saved!, is nothing more than a series of toothy reaction shots here. The lone saving grace in this mean-spirited rubbish, with a morsel of rote good will tacked on as an afterthought, is Krasinski, serenely refusing to chew scenery with the rest. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)


{mosimage}PICK MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES Nothing illustrates the monstrosity of globalized commerce more vividly than the Kubrick-like opening of Jennifer Baichwal’s mesmerizing documentary: an eight-minute lateral tracking shot that covers almost a third of a mile inside the bubble world of one titanic Chinese factory. But Baichwal’s meditative, mood-altering film — strongly recommended to fans of Koyaanisqatsi and An Inconvenient Truth , and no less important than either — is more suggestive and unnerving than a mere jeremiad. The focus is photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose specialty is macroscopic panoramas that show how industry has smashed, scarred and altered the environment. But it’s the terrifying vastness of his subjects — a mountainous computer graveyard, the mammoth Yangtze River Three Gorges Dam project shown in Jia Zhangke’s Still Life — that gives the film the hypnotic otherworldliness of science fiction. Alas, it’s all real — yet the scale and symmetry of Burtynsky’s work tends to eclipse outrage with awe. By finding beauty in appalling heaps of corporate waste and industrial devastation, is Burtynsky aestheticizing the plunder of the planet, and are we lulled into cowed complacency by his Olympian vantages? As in her excellent Shelby Lee Adams doc The True Meaning of Pictures , Baichwal undercuts easy answers. Her subject is the discrepancy between how an artist sees the world and how the world sees the art, and she challenges us flyspecks to relocate our compass within the cosmic enormity of Burtynsky’s pitiless vision. (Nuart)  (Jim Ridley)


NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE Being connected to one’s self is the primary concern of the lost souls who make up the guests at Noriko’s Dinner Table. While it’s doubtful if any of Sion Sono’s characters ever truly find this connection, this follow-up to 2002’s Suicide Club confirms that the writer/director is intensely connected (perhaps too connected) to his story’s milieu. Sono’s films depict the creepy (and often bloody) worlds of Japanese suicide and role-playing cults with such vivid detail that when combined with his easy, hand-held filming style, they almost feel like documentaries. Almost. Noriko’s Dinner Table is both prequel and sequel to Suicide Club — but never its equal. It’s twice as long and three times as ponderous. One is tempted to compare it to Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch’s indulgent follow-up to Twin Peaks; but a closer relative might be Blue in the Face, Paul Auster’s rambling coda to Smoke. Sono’s eye for detail and his dreamy-­poetic script resembles the rhapsodic early prose of Auster’s New York Trilogy stories. Likewise, his filmmaking is not as assured as his insights into character. At times it feels as if Sono is stretching his footage simply to cover the lengthy voice-over narration. Not quite leftovers — there are haunting scenes to be found in its 160 minutes — but it’s telling that the freshest portions of Noriko’s Dinner Table are the flashbacks to Sono’s previous film. (Regent Showcase) (James C. Taylor)


RESCUE DAWN See film feature. Also, an interview with Christian Bale.


TRANSFORMERS  See film feature


VITUS Genius weighs heavily on a child prodigy who longs to be “normal” in this charming Swiss import from veteran director Fredi M. Murer. Kicked out of kindergarten for being too smart, Vitus is both a brilliant mathematician and a musical virtuoso — but he is still a child emotionally, something his well-intentioned parents fail to see. Only his beloved grandfather (Bruno Ganz) allows him to be an ordinary, mischievous boy, and Vitus increasingly seeks refuge with him. Tired of being exceptional, Vitus plots a way out of his dilemma. Blissfully devoid of both sentimentality and melodrama, the story takes a few fantastical turns toward the end that dampen the realism but serve the film’s larger message. Impeccably acted, Vitus rests most squarely on the shoulders of two superb young performers, neither of whom had ever acted before: Fabrizio Borsani, who plays the younger Vitus, and Teo Gheorghiu, a real-life piano prodigy, who plays Vitus at 12. (The Landmark; Sunset 5; Town Center 5) (Jean Oppenheimer)