Film Reviews: Goya’s Ghosts, Cashback, Captivity

GO CAPTIVITY Captivity’s credits bill it as “a Russian-American coproduction,” and it damn near warms the cockles to see that the two countries that nearly brought us nuclear war can come together to make a movie about torturing a supermodel (Elisha Cuthbert). Ah, capitalism. Surprisingly, it took Lionsgate this long to do a decent rip-off of its Saw cash cow, but at least the company took the time to do it right. Grungy warehouse rigged with ridiculously elaborate electronics, cameras and traps? Check. Grotesque torture devices and “challenges” right out of a very special snuff edition of Fear Factor? Definitely. Talented character actor (Pruitt Taylor Vince, in this case) cloaked in a black robe and a hidden agenda? You know it. Sure, there’s no character development to speak of, and one or two plot points make no sense at all, but director Roland Joffé (The Mission, The Killing Fields) creates a visually interesting and aurally unsettling vibe, and the story from B-movie maestro Larry Cohen keeps it simple: Girl needs to escape, but bad shit won’t stop happening. Screw the culture cops who freaked out over Captivity’s graphic poster and always cry “torture porn” — this is a gleefully nasty piece of red meat for horror hounds that delivers as promised. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

GO CASHBACK Wong Kar-Wai on Aisle 4 and Michel Gondry on Aisle 6, with Kevin Smith as mop jockey at all points in between — such is the lost-in-the-supermarket milieu of writer-director Sean Ellis’ whimsical comedy, expanded from his Oscar-nominated 2004 short. Insomniac art student Ben (Sean Biggerstaff, from the Harry Potter franchise) nurses his bad breakup by clerking at an open-all-night superstore staffed by frolicsome hooligans, a starched-prick boss (Stuart Goodwin), and a checkout girl (Emilia Fox) he can’t help but check out. Whenever the night drags, the hero simply stops time and wanders the aisles stripping the freeze-framed female customers and using them as models for his sketch portfolio. Ellis works hard to gloss up this sicko conceit, applying a patina of winsome quirkiness as liberally as Mop ’n’ Glo: The movie is too cute by half, made close to unbearable whenever Ben’s narration spews glib pseudo-profundities about memory and temporal stillness. But the flaky humor of wage slaves serial-killing time is good, rude fun; the trompe l’oeil camera trickery creates a woozy sleepwalking effect; and Ellis (a fashion photographer who’s collaborated with David Lynch) and cinematographer Angus Hudson shoot the immaculate rows of paper towels and canned veggies with an Andreas Gursky–like eye for symmetrical splendor. It’s all so lovely you’ll want to go out at 3 a.m. to buy Cool Whip. (Regency Fairfax) (Jim Ridley)

DAVID & LAYLA Jay Jonroy, an Iraqi Kurd now living in New York, has had two close relatives end up in Saddam Hussein’s mass graves. This is more suffering than should be asked of anyone to endure, but with admirable perversity, Jonroy decided to make a romantic comedy based on the love between an American Jew and a Kurdish Muslim woman whom the writer-director met in Paris. Given the wild intractability of the Middle East mess, just about any manifestation of conciliatory spirit is more than welcome. But though it’s hard not to be infected by the good humor and sheer joie de vivre of David & Layla, the movie is better suited to a sitcom slot on television than to the big screen. Charting the courtship of a Kurdish Middle Eastern dancer (the charming Shiva Rose) by a Jewish public-access-cable talk-show host (David Moscow, mugging unto exhaustion), the movie throws in cartoonish disapproving parents on both sides, an embarrassing stereotype of a gay brother (for maximum diversity), sight and sound gags galore, and an endless stream of awkward situations as David goes through the motions of converting to Islam for his bride to be. His pants split at the tush while bowing before Allah — you get the picture. (Fallbrook; Music Hall; One Colorado) (Ella Taylor)

GO GOYA’S GHOSTS Given the bad buzz that has attended this latest collaboration between director Milos Forman and producer Saul Zaentz (the previous ones having been One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus and Valmont), it’s a pleasant surprise to find that Goya’s Ghosts is both far from an embarrassment and a generally fine piece of work. Those seeking a pictorial, paint-by-numbers biopic of the eponymous 18th-century artist are advised to look elsewhere: As irreverent in its approach as Forman’s earlier takes on the lives of Andy Kaufman and Larry Flynt, Goya’s Ghosts (which was co-scripted by Forman and Jean-Claude Carrière) shows markedly less interest in Goya (played by Stellan Skarsgård) than in the times to which he was a witness and the figures who passed through his portrait studio. They run the gamut from royals (including a wonderfully bemused Randy Quaid as King Carlos IV) to commoners to the wealthy merchant’s daughter (Natalie Portman) who becomes a shared object of obsession for Goya and the monk Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem), who rises to prominence in the Catholic Church by suggesting that the tactics of the Inquisition aren’t harsh enough. Forman, whose parents perished in Auschwitz and whose early Czech films earned the ire of local censors for their scabrous lampoons of Communist ideologies, can’t help but see fin-de-siecle Spain (with its buyable clergy, ineffectual bureaucrats, and dissenters put to torture or death) as a microcosm for much of 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century history. And as the years pass, and former heroes are first condemned then later restored to their former glory, the film becomes an unexpectedly shrewd comedy about the ways in which men, nations and systems of thought rise and fall with the changing wind. Vastly less compelling — and the only part of the movie that reeks of geriatric art-house fodder — is the soap-operaish second-act intrigue in which Portman (newly freed from a few decades in an Inquisition dungeon) goes searching for her long-lost love-child. But Goya’s Ghosts finally belongs to Bardem, who gives as great and terrifying a performance here, I think, as in the Coen brothers’ soon-to-be-released No Country for Old Men. A true man for all seasons, who comes to defend the principles of the French Revolution as passionately as he once “put the question” to accused heretics and “Judaizers,” his Lorenzo emerges as the smilingly sinister epitome of the modern political machine. (Selected theaters) (Scott Foundas)

HAIRSPRAY See film feature


SUNSHINE See film feature

GO TEN CANOES Directed by the Dutch expatriate filmmaker Rolf de Heer, this sometimes bawdy, always beguiling work of the imagination begins with a group of Aboriginal tribesmen setting out on an annual goose-hunting expedition, fashioning canoes from tree trunks and resting by night in makeshift camps perched high in trees (the better to avoid being eaten by crocodiles). Along the way, a tribal elder, Minygululu, regales his restless young companion, Dayindi — who not-so-secretly covets one of Minygululu’s three wives — with a cautionary tale about another young man similarly smitten by desire. Then this story within the story starts to unfold before our eyes. If the moral of Ten Canoes — basically, “be careful what you wish for” — is familiar, the getting there is anything but: To watch this movie (shot in breathtaking wide-screen by cinematographer Ian Jones) is to enter into a whole new language of symbols and meaning such as one rarely encounters in cinema (save, perhaps, for the African tribal films of the late Ousmane Sembene). And yet, as in Sembene, we are never lost, for as much as anything else, Ten Canoes is a celebration of the art of storytelling, and of the power of stories to transcend all barriers of space, time and language. This is a movie with sheer magic in it. (Nuart) (Scott Foundas)

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