Movie Reviews: Bandslam, Flame & Citron, The Time Traveler's Wife
BANDSLAM Deep into this latest ride on the High School Musical bandwagon, the death of a main character’s father is treated as less devastating than the social-clique intel it uncovers. Besides that bit of OMG hysteria, Todd Graff’s film is written with a desperate cleverness that clamors for attention over the brainless, against-the-odds music-competition plot. Chinless new kid Will (Gaelan Connell) finds his encyclopedic audiophilia pressed into service when nervy Charlotte (singer Aly Michalka) wants to enter her garage trio in a regional battle of the bands. He also finds a partner in crime in sarcastic outsider “Sa5m” (played by HSMer Vanessa Hudgens), while his long-necked and fretful mom (Lisa Kudrow) hovers. Thus, Will achieves the bizarre dream of becoming a band manager, in a story littered with musical references (Bowie, CBGB) that are more 50-year-old screenwriter than platinum teenybopper. The fleeting first kiss between Will and Sa5m is the rare sweet moment on the trudge toward the big night, when a tinny lineup of finalists in various ersatz styles climaxes with Will’s nine-piece band — actually called “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On.” (Citywide) (Nicolas Rapold)
GO FLAME & CITRON Of all European nations, Denmark enjoys the nearest thing to a heroic record of resisting the Nazi occupiers — which adds both poignancy and punch to Ole Christian Madsen’s fact-based drama about two posthumously honored Danes. Framed without cynicism as a gangster picture (the point being that contract killing turns everyone into a thug, however noble the cause), this slickly produced picture stars the almost unbearably charismatic Thure Lindhardt and the saturnine Mads Mikkelson as co-assassins — one loves killing, the other makes a mess of everything but killing — charged with executing Denmark’s Nazi collaborators. Flame & Citron is less about the battle between good and evil than about losing one’s way in the fog of war, which makes it hard to tell friend from foe and harder yet to sort through the rules of engagement, and complicates the heroic honor codes of movies about the “good war.” Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1969 masterpiece, Army of Shadows, exerts a palpable influence, but in its own right, Flame & Citron is the film that the horribly overrated Black Book could have been, had Paul Verhoeven not indulged in the puerile reversals of sensitive Nazis and treacherous partisans. (Royal; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)
G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA Credited as the first “action figure,” G.I. Joe came to life in 1964 as Hasbro’s answer to Mattel’s Barbie doll. There were actually four Joes — one for each branch of the armed forces — and in the imaginations of boys everywhere, they fought Nazis. Forty-odd years later, the Joes have evolved into an international band of soldiers seeking to bring down the evil Cobra Command. In the first of what’s likely to be a lucrative new film series, director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) outfits actors Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans in “accelerator suits,” which allow them to jump cars and buses in a single bound as they and their team attempt to retrieve a suitcase containing nano technology that a lunatic billionaire (Christopher Eccleston) plans to use for world domination. After a first hour that plays like a bad TV show, Sommers hits his groove with an over-the-top Paris chase sequence, which, in turn, leads to an underwater finale that’s absurdly overproduced, momentarily diverting, and then instantly forgettable. The script — by Stuart Beattie, David Elliot and Paul Lovett — is full of embarrassingly bad dialogue, but a recent midnight screening audience laughed benignly, as if to say that they hadn’t exactly been expecting profundity and wit from a summer-season toy-soldier flick. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)
THE GOODS: LIVE HARD, SELL HARD Making copy editors’ lives everywhere easier: The Goods doesn’t deliver. Don Ready (Jeremy Piven, not changing a note from Entourage) is a hired-gun slasher salesman, the guy you call when your used-car business is in trouble. With his team, Don’s a genius at clearing out stagnant lots. Producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are firmly in Anchorman territory, which means there’s zero time wasted on token sentiment. They also miss a chance to immerse themselves in a potentially rich environment, shown in all its gimmicky grandeur in John Landis’ underrated used-car-salesman documentary, Slasher. Nothing here convinces. Briskly vulgar, The Goods skips scatalogy and goes straight for the gonads: “I have hair on my balls, and I sell cars” is how Ready introduces himself. Compared to 2009’s truly vile specimens (like Miss March), The Goods is unobjectionable but shoddy. The few real laughs — all two minutes’ worth — come courtesy of Russ Meyer veteran Charles Napier as Dick Lewiston, the angriest macho male anachronism of the year. “I don’t like Jews, queers or Eskimos,” he announces apropos of nothing. “I was raised that way.” Napier connects the dots between economic disenfranchisement and subversive humor; the rest of it is just a bunch of absurdist dick jokes. (Citywide) (Vadim Rizov)
GRACE A muddled, logic-starved provocation, Grace avoids smugness by refusing to play its body horror for shits and giggles, but its resonance is purely atmospheric. Miscarriage-plagued Madeline (Jordan Ladd) decides to carry her latest child to term after losing it during a car accident that also kills her dullard of a husband, who goes bizarrely unmissed even by his own mother. Through sheer determination (a.k.a. screenwriter contrivance), Madeline wills her baby to life, except little should-be-stillborn Grace, who transforms mommy’s breasts into a bloody war zone after only a few feedings, appears to be only half-alive given her low temperature, putrid body odor and kinship to flies. Soon — perhaps naturally — the blood from organic supermarket meat (and from a surgeon who pays house calls) ends up in the tyke’s glass bottles after the hospital-averse Madeline diagnoses as being protein-deprived. Creepy, yes, but what’s the point of all of this bratty, poignance-free bloodletting? If the references to Madeline’s past sex life and finicky diet are any indication, perhaps writer-director Paul Solet’s only point is to warn us of the dangers of lesbian vegans aiming their breasts at the mouths of babes. (Sunset 5) (Ed Gonzalez)
I SELL THE DEAD Hours from the chopping block, apprentice grave robber Arthur (Dominic Monaghan) recounts his small-hour scrapes with ghouls and ruffians to Ron Perlman’s priest. The storytelling frame allows a genial, ain’t-it-cool pileup of occasionally antic episodes, most of which build to Arthur and his partner Willie’s glorified shock takes at frisky, impeccably made-up undead. The film is set in the feckin’ 19th century and buffered by raise-your-flagon pub scenes (apparently shot in the East Village at the Scratcher), and the setup is like snack food for horror hobbyists — Angus Scrimm turns up, and (producer) Larry Fessenden plays old hand Willie. It’s rather hard for anyone who has ever chanced upon a Poe anthology on cable and only lasted through one or two cheeky tales. First-time director Glenn McQuaid is especially enthusiastic about the duo’s rivals (a Burtonesque family of rogues dubbed “The House of Murphy”), but the editing rushes through the best bits and trips up Arthur and Willie’s partnership. Supporting hobbit turned Lost axiom Monaghan is too reserved anyway, and even Fessenden holds back from hork-in-yer-top-hat unsavoriness. Though Arthur’s brassy wench, Maisey (Eileen Colgan), enters too late to turn things around, she gets the best introduction: fresh off a career in “wrecking” ships, siren-style, for their booty. (Sunset 5) (Nicolas Rapold)
GO IT MIGHT GET LOUD Marketed as a guitar summit between the Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White, Davis Guggenheim’s affectionate, intermittently insightful behind-the-music doc is more electric triptych than meeting of the minds. Yes, the trio gather ’round the sound-stage amps to teach each other a few tricks, but it’s anticlimactic — save for the schoolboy smiles of White and the Edge’s mug when Page instructs them in the finer art of piloting a Led Zeppelin. But the meat of the movie deals with their individual tales anyway: the Edge showing off the school rooms and studios where U2 became one; Page air-guitaring along to Link Wray’s “Rumble” and guiding us through the manse where the fourth Zep record was recorded; White building a guitar out of little more than wood, wire and a Coke bottle. Guggenheim pits young’un against old fart: White bemoans “technology,” while the Edge is nothing but — so much so that U2 fans may find themselves disappointed by the revelation that the Wizard is nothing but a pile of pedals behind that arena-sized curtain. It’s Page, a joyful instructor and natural storyteller, who steals the spotlight. (Robert who? More, please.) Only real complaint: The movie’s not loud enough. They should have turned that fucker up to 11. (The Landmark; ArcLight Hollywood; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Robert Wilonsky)
SPREAD Broke-ass hustler Nikki (Ashton Kutcher, who also produced) may not have a home or a car, but he does possess “six inches and a pretty face,” in the words of his latest conquest, Samantha (Anne Heche), a 40-ish corporate lawyer with a fantastic house in the Hollywood Hills. Director David Mackenzie, best known for 2003’s coitus-heavy Young Adam, and first-time screenwriter Jason Hall make sure Nikki’s half-footer services Samantha (before she has vaginal-rejuvenation surgery) in many different positions on several pieces of furniture — scenes that generate about as much heat as reading Alex Witchel’s recent obsessive recapitulation of Heche getting her hair and makeup done in The New York Times Magazine. Nikki, like fellow L.A. opportunist Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard, provides first-person voice-over, with Kutcher’s drone registering as neither sardonic send-up nor consistently fanged takedown of Lotusland. Instead, as Nikki falls for Heather (Margarita Levieva), a player herself, Spread becomes a sloggy, tepid comeuppance tale. Though the end credits feature an inspired bit of nastiness, Spread might best be remembered for Nikki’s horrible kept-man fashion sense: His keffiyeh and skinhead suspenders are a far cry from Richard Gere’s Armani suits in American Gigolo — and Joe Dallesandro’s skin-hugging raglan T-shirts and polyester pants in Heat. (AMC Burbank Town Center 6, Mann Chinese 6, Mann Criterion 6) (Melissa Anderson)
GO TAXIDERMIA A batshit-crazy whatsit that applies a dazzling visual vocabulary to gleefully crass buffoonery, Taxidermia suggests a Jackass flick as directed by Sweden’s Roy Andersson. The stoner’s fantasy of non sequiturs and carnivalesque body horrors begins, almost sensibly, with a possibly retarded army dude singeing the hairs on his body, then shooting flames from his cock — a phantasmagoric expression of the lengths to which bored stiffs will go in order to get off. The dimwitted perv will go out with an unexpected bang, but not before slipping his dick into a freezing tub of water, a makeshift vagina carved into the side of his cabin, and a portly tease who will give birth to his son, a future giant, literally, of the speed-eating world. The tableaux depicting the pathetic, single-minded lives of father, son and, finally, sickly taxidermist grandson are insanely stitched together with highly conceptual graphics, and director György Pálfi’s vision includes a 360-degree pan around a vomit trough and the conflation of an orgasm to the killing of a pig. All this helps to shape Pálfi’s crudely bombastic but impressive philosophical view of the body as landscape and art, a source of personal discovery, wonder and annihilation. (Nuart) (Ed Gonzalez)
THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE A dapper (mostly) contemporary costume drama, The Time Traveler’s Wife is abundantly interior-decorated in vintage rococo. Eric Bana, to his credit, continues to wear the outfits picked out for him remarkably well. The hip-bougie upholstery even covers the band at the fairy-tale wedding, playing “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It’s not really love, though, that complicates things between Clare (Rachel McAdams) and Henry (Bana) but, instead, Henry’s tendency to inconveniently melt in and out of the present, finding himself unceremoniously stranded somewhere in time, naked. The “absentee time-traveling partner” is an open invitation to apply your own metaphor — I favor a time-travel-equals-chronic-blackout-drinking reading, but it’s elastic enough for whatever. Wife recalls a few other timeline-tangled romances, not least the telescoped lifelong love of 1948’s Portrait of Jennie — but where Jennie favored a “poetic” logic (and no-strings-attached romance), Wife forgoes any sense of mystery, dealing in the daily difficulties of synchronizing schedules, doctors’ appointments, vasectomies, pregnancies and meeting friends and parents (all crowding the movie and further diluting the already-limited rapport of the central lovers). This thoroughness may impress fans of the bestseller source novel but will disappoint anyone looking for transport from a movie. Being a time traveler’s wife, it turns out, is mostly a drag. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)
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