Film Reviews: Surf's Up, Memories of Tomorrrow, Flanders
CRAZY LOVE As tabloid babies go, Burt Pugach and Linda Riss were a pretty conventional 1950s incompatible couple. Their pathologies, according to Dan Klores painstaking documentary, were fairly standard issue, with each trying to make up for childhood deficits (he was abandoned by his father and beaten by his mother, she was sent to live with relatives) by fetishizing the other. He saw only her beauty. She saw only his wealth and entertainment-industry connections. When things went sour, he turned wild-eyed stalker and hired someone to throw lye in her face, all but blinding her. But the real twist is that after he got out of jail, they reconnected and settled into a robustly co-dependent marriage you wouldnt wish on your worst enemy. In the sense that everyone is interesting once their lives are sufficiently unpacked, Burt and Lindas story is not boring but beyond its tabloid sensationalism, its not especially significant either. Which means that no amount of gussying up with a theme-laden 50s score, archival footage, and testimony from friends and relations can mask the fact that today, in extensive interviews separately and together, they come across as a peevish, quarrelsome and rather tiresome pair glued together by mutual need. If Crazy Love doesnt offer much insight, maybe thats because theres not much to offer. (The Landmark; Playhouse 7; Sunset 5; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)
PICK ELECTION & ?TRIAD ELECTION Better late than never, Hong Kong director Johnnie Tos 2005 Actonian underworld thriller Election shows up for a week-long double-feature run together with its 2006 sequel, Triad Election (a.k.a. Election 2 ). Outside of Grindhouse, it may be the most bang for your buck to be had in a Los Angeles movie theater this season. The premise of both movies is deceptively simple: Every two years, the oldest of Hong Kongs various triads, Wo Shing Society, elects a new chairman from among its ranks. Its a literal passing of the baton a century-old carved wooden totem without which no chairmans ascendancy is complete. And much like the electoral process in many a more civilized society, this one is fraught with corruption, voter intimidation, entrenched despots and conspiratorial underlings. In the first film, the cool, calculating Lok (Simon Yam) goes head to head with short-tempered rival Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai) in an election-night nail biter as riveting as Bush vs. Gore. In the sequel, its Lok who will sooner risk intra-triad war than relinquish his title, as if that coveted baton of power had infected him with some eternal curse. The two films comprise a sprawling saga of tradition, shifting loyalties and internecine power struggles as rich as the Infernal Affairs trilogy (remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed), and they reveal To whose films are less known in the U.S. than those of his contemporaries John Woo and Tsui Hark as a master of lean, close-quarters action. To is a throwback, not to the wire-work stunts and flashy slow-mo shootouts of the 1980s Hong Kong new wave, but to 1950s Hollywood B-movie masters like Don Siegel and André de Toth in their prime. (NuWilshire) (Scott Foundas)
FLANDERS In the fourth feature film by philosophy professor turned cine-provocateur Bruno Dumont (LHumanité, Twentynine Palms), which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2006, a trio of young men from the titular Belgian farm town are drafted into an unnamed military action in some faraway place. So, wheres the war youre off to? a friend asks of the hulking, soft-spoken Demester (Samuel Boidin) as he prepares to ship out. There comes no reply. It is through Demesters heavy and inexpressive eyes that we witness the barbarity of the battlefield and the savage instincts of men (and women) under fire. While Flanders modern military technology, desert setting and dark-skinned insurgents will prompt many to see the film as an analogue for the war in Iraq, Dumont actually reduces everything (from location to character motivation) to an abstraction, so that we might just as well be in Afghanistan, Algeria or the African theater of World War II. The film arrives at a familiar conclusion that war is hell but the getting there is made uniquely unsettling by Dumonts relentlessly anti-psychological disposition. In his best films, of which this is one, he views mankind the way some future civilization might: with great curiosity, from a cautious distance, and ultimately as one more species in the vast animal kingdom.(Nuart) (Scott Foundas)
HOSTEL: PART II was not screened in advance of our print deadline, but a review will appear here soon. For an interview with writer-director Eli Roth, click here. (Citywide)
LA VIE EN ROSE See film feature
THE LAST CONFEDERATE Making a brief appearance in theaters on its way to DVD, The Last Confederate tells the true story of Southern gentleman Robert Adams and his love affair with Northern belle Eveline McCord during the Civil War as produced for the screen by Adams great- and great-great-grandsons, executive producer Weston Adams and writer-director-star Julian Adams, respectively. Thats a lot of greats for a film that plays like warmed-over Cold Mountain. The lackluster action follows Adams (played by the great-great) as he trudges from the frontlines back to Eveline (Gwendolyn Edwards), the new wife he left behind, then back to the fighting, then home again. It was a long war, but between Adams onscreen toing-and-froing and his behind-the-camera penchant for slow-motion shots, long fades to black, cascading flashbacks, and ponderous voice-overs about the burden of battle and shared sacrifice, youd think it went on for decades. Its easy to keep blaming Ken Burns for this kind of softcore Civil War porn, but enough is enough: This is a vanity project of the most indulgent order. Though, at the very least, it kept all those re-enactors off the streets. (Sunset 5) (Paul Malcolm)
OCEANS THIRTEEN See film feature.
MEMORIES OF TOMORROW Give or take a smattering of dream sequences and frequent, overly symbolic shots of clouds, this drama from director Yukihiko Tsutsumi about a high-powered advertising executive (Ken Watanabe) felled by Alzheimers disease is no more than conventional. A strenuous subtext about the notorious workaholism and after-hours whoring of Japanese businessmen feels grafted on. Still, Memories of Tomorrow is distinguished by Watanabes affecting performance as a man facing up to the loss of everything that mattered to him, including his neglected wife (an excellent Kanako Higuchi). This heartfelt tale of disintegration and acceptance, seasoned with family devotion, will both raise and soothe the anxieties of those of us who regularly ask ourselves why we came into the kitchen two minutes ago. (Music Hall; One Colorado) (Ella Taylor)
SURFS UP The cash-cow flippered ones rise again, this time as yellow-tufted surfer dudes riding the waves of life off the coast of an island that looks like a cross between Hawaii and Venice Beach. If you have to see another penguin blockbuster, you could do worse than this loose-limbed charmer written by, oh, a lot of jokesters and directed by a scant two, Ash Brannon and Chris Buck. The gimmick is a reality-television premise just how knowingly ironic do we want our kids to be before they even hit their tweens? but dont expect much fresh by way of plot, which is almost identical to that of Cars and every bit as pregnant with wholesome messaging. Shia LaBeouf voices Cody, a cocky but insecure Rockhopper penguin sorely in need of a father figure who bonds with a washed-up old champion surfer (a delightful Jeff Bridges) to train for a big surf-off, during which, it goes without saying, both learn to redefine the meaning of winning. As always, the energy comes from a manic supporting cast, of whom the funniest hands-down is James Woods Don Kinglike surf promoter. Surfs Up is copycat moviemaking at its smoothest; its one imaginative innovation billowing, silky, utterly sexy waves is technical. (Citywide) (Ella Taylor)
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