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Movie Reviews: Confessions of a Shopaholic, Friday the 13th, Gomorrah

CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC The Confessions of a Shopaholic we need right now would feature John Thain begging the American public to forgive him for purchasing a $35,000 commode. As it is, the movie plays like an outrageously obscene gesture as the economy continues to swallow up livelihoods. Based on Sophie Kinsella’s first two books in her Shopaholic series — published at the tail end of the last gilded age — Confessions the film moves the source material’s setting from London to New York. “A man will never love or treat you as well as a store,” Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) gushes in voice-over at the film’s beginning, the first of many Carrie Bradshaw–esque moments. Rebecca — $16K in hock and constantly dodging bill collectors because she can’t resist purchasing $200 Marc Jacobs underwear — dreams of working at glossy Alette but lands instead at Successful Savings magazine, run by a dully principled Brit (Hugh Dancy). Until last-minute life lessons are preached, Confessions is simply a product-placement vehicle for Prada, YSL and Burberry. Yes, the time has come to set aside childish things, particularly a movie that hypocritically masquerades as a moral tale about living within one’s means after devoting most of its running time to fetishizing the labels that landed its heroine in the red in the first place. (Citywide) (Melissa Anderson)

FRIDAY THE 13TH As resistant to new ideas as crabgrass is to Weed-B-Gon, the Friday the 13th movies have weathered 3-D, sci-fi, CGI, multiple revivals and finales, and even a battle-of-the-mothballed-bogeymen grudge match against Freddy Krueger, without deviating from their dull stalk-’n’-slash formula. Entering its 30th year (see: cinema, decline of), the idiot offspring of Halloween and Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve “reboots” — which means the first few minutes restage the original’s climax, followed by a modern-day teaser that grinds up some expendable nobodies...and that’s before the title, dude! After that, the movie proper offers more of the same. This means that for one ticket price, you get three shoddy Friday the 13th movies packed into one, which might constitute entertainment value if any one of them constituted entertainment. Fanboys will resent director Marcus “I Fucked Up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Remake” Nispel’s perfunctory ax/machete/bear trap money shots: Deaths are plentiful, but kinda blah — hardly comparable to Tom Savini’s groundbreaking gore effects in the 1980 original. (Chekhov was right: A woodchipper in the first act will fire up in the third.) Of special note (besides the movie’s boob quotient and weirdly insistent anti-pot subtext) is Arlen Escarpeta in the ever-popular role of the Black Guy Who’s Toast. It falls to Escarpeta to confront the hockey-masked, machete-wielding madman with the most ineffectual weapon in slasher-movie history — which prompted the woman behind me to mutter, “Aw, man, don’t drop that wok.” (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

FUEL Screened at festivals as Fields of Fuel (now expanded with new material), this documentary about the virtues of biofuel heavily interpolates the life of director-evangelist-narrator Joshua Tickell. Born in Australia, he moves as a boy to Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” where gasoline refineries regularly befoul the bayous with accidentally-on-purpose spills. Or so the class-action lawyers tell Tickell, who’s no less credulous about every Internet crank and claim made about the oil industry, Iraq War, Bush, Cold War, Prohibition — all a plot by John D. Rockefeller to kill ethanol! — etc., etc. Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) is treated like an oracle, and there’s not a single (even moderately) dissenting voice heard on the biodiesel bandwagon. You’re either in the cult or raping the planet. Biofuel is Tickell’s rosebud, and he attempts to explain everything, everything, in the world via the greasy substance that so clearly gave his life direction. (The film took 11 years to make, including an awkward Veggie Van–driving, Phish-listening, tie-dye period during the ’90s.) Tickell is preaching to the converted, who already fill their vintage Benzes with french-fry grease from Dr. Dan, Propel or other local vendors (at nearly $4 per gallon). But they already know the gospel, and already have DVDs of the better told, better argued Who Killed the Electric Car? and An Inconvenient Truth at home. Those outside the bio-church aren’t likely to drive (at less than $2 per gallon) to see it at their local theater. (Sunset 5) (Brian Miller)

GO  GOMORRAH Matteo Garrone’s dramatic portrait of the notorious Italian Mafia organization Neapolitan Camorra focuses on the ancillary figures who, willingly or not, prop up the mob’s activities. The five interwoven narratives in this visceral but disciplined and beautifully acted movie show to devastating effect how ordinary men and women — and especially vulnerable boys desperate for masculine role models — are caught up in the seductive violence and are ruthlessly destroyed by the network’s hardened henchmen. It’s hard to tell whether the movie exaggerates the Mafia’s reach deep into and pollution of the infrastructure of everyday life, laying the groundwork for guerrilla-style civil war. Given Gomorrah’s arch referencing of the brutality in Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, I could wish Garrone were a little less excited himself by the brutality he stretches over 136 long minutes. And if he, too, like author Roberto Saviano (upon whose best-selling exposé the film is based), is forced to leave Italy for fear of mob reprisal, will he be denied entrance to the United States on the grounds that one of the Camorra’s real-life business ventures is helping to underwrite the rebuilding of the Twin Towers in New York? (Royal; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

POLANSKI: UNAUTHORIZED A fictionalized chronicle of the life, art and disgraceful European exile of the Chinatown director, written, produced, directed by and starring B-movie actor-director Damian Chapa (El Padrino: The Mexican Godfather). Though it’s a near thing, the movie isn’t quite bad enough to qualify as a classic tone-deaf vanity production; it isn’t The Room. Chapa plays the director passably well, and even manages a decent Polish accent when the auteur is berating underlings or popping pills and pawing at actresses, but he resorts to scrunching up his face and yelling when there are big emotions to express. Chapa appears to view the diminutive pedophile as an innocent abroad (“This isn’t Europe, Mr. Polanski,” growls a bullet-headed cop), though there’s a whiff of an implication that his involvement with a Satanist technical adviser on Rosemary’s Baby may have had a maligned influence on his destiny. Still, Chapa earns our gratitude by staging very discreetly the Manson family slaughter of Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate (lookalike Brienne De Beau). Another mercy: Leah Grimsson, the actress cast as the tween blonde Polanski drugged and raped, is a young woman who caught a final glimpse of 13 in her rearview mirror several summers ago. (Sunset 5) (David Chute)

GO  THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK With Milk in the Oscar spotlight, now is the perfect moment to look back at the previous film on the same subject, The Times of Harvey Milk. A lot has happened in the 25 years between Rob Epstein’s Oscar-winning 1984 documentary and Gus Van Sant’s biopic, but the subject of the nation’s signal gay rights leader is as relevant as ever, especially in light of the ongoing fight over Prop 8. But back in the 1970s, Prop 6 was a far more dire deal that would have mandated the firing of both gay school teachers and their supporters. Milk’s successful oppositional campaign is one of the highlights of a film filled with interviews of many of his most important friends and allies, bringing to light a man who in his brief but incredibly consequential life was, as straight union rep Jim Elliot discovered, “the kind of guy who’s going to talk about you.” Milk’s ability to link gay rights to the struggles of all the disenfranchised made his fame. Epstein’s film concentrates on this over his personal life (which dominates Milk). We do, however see a lot of Milk’s assassin, Dan White, and the mockery of a trial in which the horrendous double murder of Milk and Mayor George Moscone proves of scant concern to a rigged jury crying copious tears over White himself. White, who served only five-and-a-half years for manslaughter was still alive when The Times of Harvey Milk was first released. He committed suicide shortly afterwards. (Downtown Independent) (David Ehrenstein)

TWO LOVERS If Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a lovelorn bachelor in James Gray’s Two Lovers, were 12 years old, the movie might make a touching romantic drama for tweens. Not that adults don’t regress madly under the pressure of hopeless infatuation. But though Two Lovers is based on a Dostoevsky story, Gray’s lack of interpretive distance from his subject, coupled with extreme overacting from his lead actor, results in melodrama that sits up and begs to be farce. As Leonard, a jilted 30-something who’s moved back in with his Brighton Beach Jewish parents (Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov), Phoenix lays on the pimply-youth body language so thick that it wouldn’t be surprising to see him twitch at his underpants. This shambling mama’s boy quickly becomes irresistible to two luscious beauties from opposite ends of his comfort zone: nice Jewish girl Sandra (Vinessa Shaw) and shiksa Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), a neurotic tease who summons him to nocturnal rooftop summits about the uneven progress of her affair with a married man. What follows is a clumsy stab at Vertigo laced with bits of Marty. What you make of Leonard’s behavior at the end of Two Lovers may depend on whether you read It’s a Wonderful Life as the uplifting tale of a depressive redeemed from suicide, or the tragedy of a man who gave up adventure for a domestic cocoon. (The Landmark; Sunset 5; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)


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