Movie Reviews: Bustin' Down the Door, Love Comes Lately
ASIAN STORIES (BOOK 3) Dumped by his fiancée two weeks before their wedding, sorrowful, strait-laced Jim (Heroes’ James Kyson Lee) does the only rational thing: he asks his best friend, Alex (Kirt Kishita), who happens to be a hit man, to kill him. As part of their agreement, the two pals drive to the mountains outside Los Angeles for a male-bonding trip with an itinerary that includes Alex offing his buddy at some undetermined time. At this point, one can’t help but ask, “How soon will Jim meet-cute with a pretty girl who will make him regret his hasty suicide plan?” Well, Asian Stories (Book 3) doesn’t disappoint, as annoyingly feisty waitress Amanda (Kathy Uyên) quickly arrives on the scene to turn Jim’s frown upside-down. As its title suggests, this minuscule-budgeted comedy-drama directed by Ronald Oda and Kris Chin believes its Asian-American characters give voice to a section of the filmgoing audience whose culture usually gets ignored by mainstream cinema. But while the filmmakers have a point, surely there are hundreds of undiscovered Asian-American directors with more to say than Oda and Chin, whose creatively bankrupt film is so indifferently acted and meagerly executed that you wonder if Asian Stories could be sued for cultural misrepresentation. (ImaginAsian Center) (Tim Grierson)
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Love Comes Lately
GO BUSTIN’ DOWN THE DOOR The title of director Jeremy Gosch’s engaging, elegantly made surf documentary describes the often brash methods employed by a pack of scrappy foreigners — Australians Ian Cairns, Mark Richards, Peter Townend and Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, plus South Africans Shaun and Michael Tomson — to make names for themselves at a time (the mid-1970s) when surfing was still more of a local (i.e., Hawaiian) pastime than a global professional sport. And get noticed they did, shredding every wave they could, from perfectly formed pipeline barrels to gnarlier-than-thou Waimea Bay closeouts, effectively creating the look and ethos of modern pro surfing in their wake. Occasionally, the sextet’s daredevil brio got the better of them — and earned the ire of more than a few North Shore locals — but it’s humility and gratitude that characterize these wave-riding éminences grises today as they look back on their youthful selves (via some spectacular Super-8 and 16mm archival footage) and marvel at the evolution of the surf lifestyle into a multibillion-dollar industry. Although it can’t help hitting some familiar beats — chiefly the tension between surfing’s “pure” roots and its eventual commercialization — Bustin’ Down the Door always favors the personal anecdote over the historical generalization, and, more than any movie of its kind since Dana Brown’s 2003 Step Into Liquid, will leave surf junkies and novices alike longing to get their feet wet. (Monica 4-Plex) (Scott Foundas)
GO CSNY: DÉJÀ VU Neil Young wanted to tour the country that re-elected George W. Bush, dole out some demerits, light some fires and maybe even sell a few copies of his 2006 album, Living With War. So he convinced his former bandmates, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, to join him, and brought journalist Mike Cerre and Iraq and Vietnam war vets to canvas the crowds about the ongoing battle. Directed by Young (credited as Bernard Shakey), CSNY: Déjà Vu presents the foursome’s summer of dove (though the hatchets buried between them seem to have shallow graves), as part-tour documentary, part-polemic for-and-by-the-people. Initially erring a little too far on the side of the former, the film’s mishmash of news footage and concert reviews threatens to devolve into a CSNY wank-fest, but when the tour hits Georgia — and Georgia hits back — the power of a brazen anthem puts the focus squarely on the audience. The crowd stampeding for the doors in a hail of red-faced bird-flipping (apparently “Let’s Impeach the President” is not a local favorite) isn’t the kind of march Young had in mind. But the house band for countless Vietnam protests sees an equal problem in preaching to the choir: Exchanging righteous vibes makes for a nice evening out, but, as Nash points out, ain’t no thing until the choir gets off its ass. (The Landmark) (Michelle Orange)
EIGHT MILES HIGH Groupie Uschi (“ooh-she”) Obermaier has a name that’s fun to say and a youth that reads like it was even more fun to live, but Eight Miles High, Achim Bornhak’s exasperating biopic, is the biggest buzz kill that could possibly come of so much raw material. Raw is how Bornhak likes his heroine, and actress Natalia Avelon obliges; the opening shot, in which her bare, buoyant breasts get as much real estate as her studiously jutted pout, is as close as this film gets to a thesis statement. Uschi, a gorgeous German woman of little discernible talent or personality, leaves home at 22 and ends up in a pseudoradical commune in 1968 Munich. Item A on the commune’s hairy overlord’s agenda is convincing the lost lambs who wander in that they aren’t liberated until they nail him — and then watch him nail someone else. From there, Uschi follows several men (including Keith Richards and German adventurer Dieter Bockhorn) around the world, her spectacular rack and middling modeling career in tow. But the vitality of the time, and often Uschi’s own experiences, gets lost somewhere in Avelon’s towering headdress of hair. Stoned on the story’s ’60s sex-bomb potential, Bornhak piles on the sex and forgets the bomb; the result is unaffecting filmmaking, as slack-jawed and superficial as its subject. (Sunset 5) (Michelle Orange)
GO LOVE COMES LATELY The mercurial spirit and gnomic intellect of Isaac Bashevis Singer are properly difficult to trap in a bottle, but German director Jan Schütte comes as close as any in this atmospheric, exhilaratingly ambitious chamber piece that weaves the great Yiddish writer’s life and obsessions with three of his seminal stories. Traveling by train to New Hampshire to give a speech, Singer’s alter ego, Max Kohn (played by Austrian actor Otto Tausig with wonderfully precise petulance), a diminutive old writer striving to reconcile deeper existential worries with prostate trouble and a restless libido, tangles with the real and fictive women who have shaped his life and work — among them an elusive Miami dowager (Caroline Aaron), a disenchanted former student (Barbara Hershey), a widow (Tovah Feldshuh) mourning her happy marriage, and his sorely tested companion (Rhea Perlman). It can’t be said of Singer that he loved women; with old-school courtesy and often monstrous detachment, he treated them like dirt. But Schütte deftly juggles antic comedy, pathos and melancholy to show how Singer used the opposite sex to fuel his terror of impotence, castration and death — and, well into his 80s, his hope for self-renewal. His losses are forever our gain: Arriving at his destination, the old geezer loses his notes for the speech, but enthralls the audience with a story instead. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)
GO A MAN NAMED PEARL Feature-length elaborations on quirky, inspiring human-interest stories are generally to be avoided, but I’ll make an exception for A Man Named Pearl. Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson’s brief documentary never wears out its welcome in profiling Pearl Fryar, a 68-year-old amateur topiary gardener who’s put Bishopville, South Carolina, on the map. A mathematician and manufacturing-plant worker turned self-made greenery sculptor, Fryar’s three-acre garden tends toward towering, Gaudi-esque abstractions; tourists come from near and far. Galloway and Pierson use Fryar as a focal point for examining Bishopville, the seat of Lee County (the poorest in all of South Carolina, with an average per capita income of just more than $15,000), where Fryar emerges as the unlikely single ray of hope; his sculptures, planted on the highway strip running through downtown, are supposed to attract tourism. As a portrait of genteel small-town life, it’s not half-bad, so hell-bent on being inspirational that it dodges thornier issues but so pleasant and well-organized that it’s hard to mind. Fryar proves an inexhaustible starting point for examining local education, segregated churches, the decline of agriculture in the economy and anything else that seems relevant. (Fallbrook 7; Music Hall; Playhouse 7) (Vadim Rizov)
NO REGRET No Regret begins as a perceptive glimpse into a specific gay subculture, then descends halfway through into Korean melodrama hell; put both parts together and it’s still ahead of the ghettoized gay-movie par. Su-min (Lee Young-hoon) is a country orphan come to Seoul; fired from his factory job, he takes up “hostessing.” Cue realistic-looking simulated sex that shies just short of penetration and the stalker attentions of Jae-min (Lee Han), rich corporate heir. Writer-director Leesong Hee-il offers a seemingly authentic look into “host bars,” where young Korean boys strip during karaoke, then go off with the customers, and he’s made a gay movie where the gayness only comes out during the sex (though there’s plenty of that). Things go downhill after Su-min and Jae-min finally get together; family drama and a fiancée taking a page straight from Anne Hathaway interrupt their bliss. Eventually, all kinds of gangster clichés pop up, and people start hitting each other over the head with shovels. Until then, No Regret is a tiny, specific film admirable in its focus, competent digital cinematography and lack of sentimentality. Too bad it turns into Extreme Korean Romance. (Sunset 5) (Vadim Rizov)
TAKE Take sketchily crisscrosses narrative strands involving a man on death row and the working-class mother whose life he has ravaged. Taking outlandish delight in the nature of the focal crime, director Charles Oliver follows Ana (Minnie Driver) as she drives to the prison facility where Saul (Jeremy Renner) will receive a lethal injection. When he can no longer disguise from the audience that Ana’s little boy is a goner, now only a projection of the woman’s mirror-infused reality, Oliver gets his sick rocks off by teasing the audience with how the special-ed-bound Jesse (Bobby Coleman) bit the bullet on the fateful day he and Mommy were inside a supermarket, when Saul pulled a gun on the store’s customers. Tricked-out with bizarre fuzzy-wuzzy point-of-view shots, a tinkly soundtrack, overly considered compositions that foreground oddball acts of human behavior and screechy literalizations of psychological trauma and healing (behold as Ana leaves her baggage behind in the final shot), Take has the audacity to excuse its bad cinematic habits as figments of both Saul and Ana’s imaginations. Oliver wants to defend restorative justice, but his interest in this form of victim-offender mediation registers only as an afterthought — unelaborated and presented solely as a means of dodging criticism. (Fallbrook 7; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7) (Ed Gonzalez)
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