Movie Reviews: Dirty Hands, Furry Vengeance, Harry Brown

GO  DIRTY HANDS: THE ART & CRIMES OF DAVID CHOE Filmmaker Harry Kim has known acclaimed bad-boy graffiti artist David Choe for 20 years, first becoming friends when they attended the same summer camp as teenagers. That information isn't essential in order to appreciate Dirty Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe, but Kim's documentary unquestionably gets its intimacy and refreshing evenhandedness from the director's familiarity with Choe. Chronicling the Los Angeles Korean-American street artist's life from 2000 to 2008, Dirty Hands deftly segues between Choe's personal and professional adventures, weaving together his family background, steadily ascending career, sexual addictions, criminal behavior, mental illness and fledgling attempts at becoming a born-again Christian to create a complex and open-ended portrait. Though nowhere as singular an achievement as Terry Zwigoff's Crumb, the agreeably rough-and-tumble Dirty Hands recalls that documentary's willingness to explore its subject's less-savory personal qualities to question how those traits both feed and undermine his distinctive art. (In another crucial similarity, both films were made by people with whom the artists knew well enough to feel completely candid and natural.) A different filmmaker might have depicted Choe as either an angelic rebel outsider or his life as a hand-wringing cautionary tale, but it was Choe's good fortune (and ours) that instead Dirty Hands is the product of a close confidant who has sympathy for his friend but who also sees his flaws clearly. If Exit Through the Gift Shop is a witty, subversive satire on the rock star–ification of underground graffiti artists, Dirty Hands is a sober, loving snapshot of one troubled soul within that milieu. (Tim Grierson) (Sunset 5)

FURRY VENGEANCE The simple thesis of Furry Vengeance is very much made for the 6 to, oh, let's say 6½-year-old set: People do bad things to the planet. Like build sprawling housing developments where they shouldn't, in this case an unspoiled forest populated by pissed-off woodland creatures who've wrought generations' worth of hilarious pain upon would-be settlers. Furry Vengeance isn't really a movie at all; it's a message provided by the good people at Participant Media, who've brought you, among other entertainments, Food, Inc. (which will make you never want to eat again), The Cove (which is kind of like an espionage caper, only it ends with the real-life slaughter of dolphins) and the forthcoming Climate of Change (a Tilda Swinton–narrated doc about ordinary folks' efforts to combat global warming). The film's Web site offers kids an activity guide and redirects them to the Endangered Species Coalition, The Wilderness Society, and Defenders of Wildlife. In other words, Participant knows comedy! Brendan Fraser plays Dan, a pudgy schnook who uprooted his family (including Brooke Shields, who has never looked comfortable playing funny) to the wild in order to tear it down. When the animals — chiefly, a raccoon and a squirrel — catch wind of the developers' plan to pave, baby, pave, they revolt. The animals here don't talk; that's the movie's one saving grace. Fraser is put through the ringer though — I've never felt sorrier for an actor. Clearly, he lost a bet to Participant founder Jeff Skoll. (Robert Wilonsky) (Citywide)

THE GOOD HEART "No women," insists rancorous NYC saloon owner Jacques (Brian Cox) to new trainee Lucas (Paul Dano) in The Good Heart, which reteams the actors of 2001's L.I.E. Jacques and Lucas meet in a hospital, where the older man is recovering from his fifth coronary and the younger — homeless and styled like the creature behind the Dumpster in Mulholland Drive — from a suicide attempt. With no concern for character, plot, tone or purpose, Icelandic writer-director Dagur Kári (2003's Nói) is content merely to play Jacques' old-coot misanthropy (instantly wearying) against his protégé's forbearance (which the usually talented Dano confuses with autism), resulting in a sloppy, desultory, depressive buddy comedy the color of beer-infused pee. The arrival of an actual female (À Tout de Suite's Isild Le Besco, wasted in her first role in English) disrupts the homosocial order but not the filmmaker's bad instincts: A hit-and-run caused by the retrieval of a pet leads to a literalization of the already maudlin title, and Kári's smug little arthouse offering ends up covered in Nicholas Sparks goo. (Melissa Anderson) (Fallbrook, Monica Playhouse, Sunset 5)

THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD The latest from popular Korean director Kim Ji-woon lands with a splat in the camp of decadent American blockbusters. Dubbed an "oriental Western" but really a travesty of Sergio Leone's control of space, pacing and storytelling, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a sloppy 130-minute scramble for treasure in 1930s wartime Manchuria, by a ducktailed assassin in a suit (Lee Byung-hun), a rustic goofball (Song Kang-ho) and an exquisitely complexioned dude (Jung Woo-sung), along with Japanese occupiers and pimped-out nomads. White plains, opium dens and assorted collapsible sets play host to overpopulated chases and wildly variable face-offs delivered with unjustified brio, though a final cavalry stampede pummels one into some kind of satisfied submission. Song (best known in the States for his Bong Joon-ho roles) is vital, taking the boisterous chaos in stride, with a winning sense of humor and striking up an engaging rapport with Jung (who ultimately plays his captor). And the historical hodgepodge of the setting (less Raiders than Cannonball Run) lends a welcome underlying nuttiness. But Kim's filmmaking is generally cartoonish in a bad sense, as he squanders his set pieces, flashbacks and other attention-getting with sometimes downright-wretched staging. The expected climactic shoot-out is drained of suspense by isolating the gunslingers in poorly timed shots, for one final frustration too many. (Nicolas Rapold) (Nuart)

HARRY BROWN Purely for the reliable pleasure of Michael Caine's company, I came ready to praise what threatened to be another miserabilist drama of life and death in Broken Britain. For a while, Caine holds his own as the titular pensioner, defeat registered in the quiescent slump of his shoulders, as he trudges through his last days living on a burnout London housing estate. Around him, a cheap knockoff of Prime Suspect takes shape, laden with copious "guvs" and "ma'ams" and "I've spoken to Division, and they concur" issuing from the hackneyed pen of screenwriter Gary Young. You won't have to put up with this for long — worse is on its way, notably when the killing of a good friend turns Harry Brown into Dirty Harry, and he starts blowing away half the no-good youth of today in exponentially aggravated scenes of brutality and implausibility. No one will listen to Emily Mortimer's Detective Inspector, a soggy substitute for Helen Mirren, who remains unpersuaded that lumpen London is consuming itself without help from a killer, and sets off in heroic pursuit of the lone culprit. Director Daniel Barber's lame hand-wringing about the root causes of youthful alienation forms a thin veneer over the real purpose of this self-important piece of rubbish: to hold us hostage to the director's bottomless appetite for spurious depravity. (Ella Taylor) (Citywide)

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was not screened in advance of our deadline, but a review will appear here next week and can be found at (Citywide)

TIMER A high-concept, low-budget romantic comedy that integrates science fiction (similar to Brad Anderson's underrated Happy Accidents), writer-director Jac Schaeffer's pleasant feature debut first requires a ridiculous leap of faith: that a biotech gizmo might be able to pinpoint your soul mate. (If true, Apple is on it.) Soon to be 30, love-obsessed dentist Oona (Emma Caulfield) has dragged every potential new beau to the TiMER clinic to be outfitted with a wrist implant, which counts down the time until you'll meet your perfect match — assuming they've jacked in, too. Oona's biological clock literally flashes like an unprogrammed VCR, while her stepsister and roommate, Steph (Michelle Borth), sleeps around, killing time until she's set to meet Mr. Right at 43. Perhaps it's nitpicking to scold Schaeffer for adhering to the genre's feel-good trappings, when a more rebellious auteur might've had Oona beeping in the presence of someone disabled, another woman, or a long-lost relative. The titular device draws attention from any heartfelt connections, and the film's bland aesthetics and movie-cute cast kick up unsolicited nostalgia for many a '90s indie. A romcom is a romcom, however, and at least this one's more charming than most of Jennifer Aniston's career. (Aaron Hillis) (Monica 4)

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