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Movie Reviews: Forever, My Blueberry Nights, My Brother Is an Only Child

CHAPTER 27 Jared Leto might win an Oscar next year if audiences are willing to see Chapter 27 as an abstract of the rise to power of Perez Hilton. But Jarrett Schaefer’s film is explicitly about the mental unraveling of John Lennon murderer Mark David Chapman, a role for which Leto gained 60 pounds and unintentionally invoked the voice of South Park’s Towelie. “I’m going to be with you, Holden ... in the rye ... in the ryyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeee,” drawls the actor in a seemingly pot-stoked stupor, laying on the crazy so thick you’re left wondering why Chapman was let off the plane from Hawaii. Making the Fincherian The Killing of John Lennon seem like the masterpiece Zodiac wasn’t, this misbegotten psychological portrait eagerly foregrounds Leto’s excess blubber and histrionic blather, delivered like bad improv outside the Dakota building — “home of the great and powerful,” according to Chapman, clearly oblivious that Rex Reed also lives inside. A retarded sense of meta is achieved whenever Leto’s Chapman goes on about the phony theatrics of film actors, but it’s Lindsay Lohan, as über–Lennon fan Jude, who breaks your heart, looking convincingly horrified that she has three undeserved Razzies while Leto has none. (Nuart) (Ed Gonzalez)

 
EXTRA ORDINARY BARRY Hapless comic flailing envelops nearly every minute of Extra Ordinary Barry, the sort of woefully incompetent independent film that evokes either pity or disgust, depending on your level of tolerance. Fresh from being fired from his job as an olfactory specialist, Barry Berry (Jay Convente) gets a call from the woman he donated his sperm to years ago, announcing that the resulting child now wishes to meet him. Wanting to appear gainfully employed for the kid’s arrival, Barry begins working as a massage instructor, where he’s saddled with students who form a rainbow coalition of unfunny cultural stereotypes: Horny Asian Chick, Smooth Black Dude, Sheltered Southern Gal, Weirdo New-Age Guy, Incontinent Indian Man. Written and directed by first-timer Vivi Stafford, Extra Ordinary Barry heaps a series of stresses onto Barry — he also has a longtime girlfriend (Carrie Chason) who’s waiting for a proposal — that are meant to motivate him into growing up and taking his life by the reins. Instead, the collision of episodic inanities only creates wave upon wave of audience agony as the equally cruddy subplots vie for attention. Though he’s presumably meant to be adorably clueless, Convente’s childlike facial contortions make him seem sexless and creepy — not quite the image you want in your romantic lead. As for the film’s comic repartee, it mostly involves characters yelling back and forth at each other. By the end, you may want to join in. (Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)

 
GO  FOREVER A philosophical study in the relationship between the dead artists of Paris’s Père-Lachaise cemetery and their visitors and keepers, veteran documentarian Heddy Honigmann’s Forever contemplates both buried celebrities and the relatively obscure in its musing on eternity. Forever achieves something more resonant than a Solemn Affirmation of the Immortal Spirit of Art by virtue of Honigmann’s instinct and sensitivity as an interviewer; circulating through the cemetery, she patiently extracts often staggeringly tragic-poetic back stories from its living denizens. The interviews are done in restive, gently penetrating close-ups that, matched with their subject’s self-revelations, draw the beauty of each speaker to the surface. A Japanese pianist discusses the connection she finds to her deceased father through playing Chopin; a Korean tourist ruminates on Proust in his untranslated native tongue; an Iranian cab driver sings tribute over the grave of Persian author Sadegh Hedayat (whose works, in a recent cultural purge, were withdrawn from publication in Iran). The ambient camerawork can be obvious in groping for the beauty of moldering pathos (not for nothing are cemeteries the classic go-to for amateur photographers), but interludes of the sublime and unexpected are never far off. (Music Hall) (Nick Pinkerton)

 
GRIZZLY PARK It’s a common complaint among fans that too many horror films these days don’t take the time to develop their characters before throwing them into peril, and thus we don’t care what happens to them. A fair criticism, but what if the characters being “developed” are all one-dimensional idiots, portrayed by actors who can’t even successfully fake being in pain? Such is the dilemma facing Grizzly Park, in which a team of stereotypical juvenile delinquents — the nerd, the bimbo, the slut, the sweater-wearing yuppie, the tattooed white supremacist, etc. — find themselves doing community service in a state park that’s closed to visitors. Little do they know that both a serial killer and a large grizzly bear are on the loose, though the former is dispatched by the latter surprisingly quickly. Then there’s about an hour until the next kill, time enough for us to realize how poorly the excellently named writer-director Tom Skull has sketched out his characters and cast the actors playing them; he could at least have given us some ladies willing to get naked. All that separates Grizzly Park from a typical Sci-Fi Channel reject is a couple of amusing gore effects and the use of a real bear rather than some awful CG creation. Glenn Morshower (Aaron Pierce on 24) has some fun in the semi-leading role, but like everyone else onscreen, he’s basically fending for himself in a wilderness of hackdom. (Sunset 5) (Luke Y. Thompson)

 

 
GO  IMAGINARY WITNESS: HOLLYWOOD AND THE HOLOCAUST How do you depict the unfathomable? Can tragedy be re-created without cheapening it? These are the familiar questions passed between interviewees in Imaginary Witness, a survey of how American cinema has historically interpreted Nazi atrocity. The film compiles hundreds of excerpts dating from 1939 — the year of Confessions of a Nazi Spy, the first studio picture to attack the Reich — through postwar reticence, and finally to Schindler’s List’s Oscar orgy. Daniel Anker has made a serviceable, abridged guide to his subject, though some omissions do rankle: Sam Fuller’s gutty 1959 Verboten!, which utilized actual concentration-camp footage, dissed in favor of 1961’s Judgment at Nuremberg, praised for doing the same? Though Hollywood is the stated focus, the lack of any foreign media denies a useful comparison. And the tackiest material is not more than alluded to; there’s only a glimpse of Robin Williams, no The Day the Clown Cried, no very special episodes. But Anker has excavated some remarkable stuff here, including documentation of Hollywood producers being taken to tour death camps, and footage from a 1953 This Is Your Life broadcast showcasing a Holocaust survivor, Hanna Bloch Kohner. Hearing host Ralph Edwards recount epic mass extermination amid the immaculate, floodlit studio trappings is every bit as moving as it is surreal. (Grande 4-Plex; Town Center 5) (Nick Pinkerton)

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LEATHERHEADS Click here for a full-length review by Scott Foundas. (Music Hall)  

 
LOVE SONGS Click here for a full-length review by Scott Foundas. (Music Hall) 

 
MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS Wong Kar Wai called Chungking Express, his fourth film but first international calling card, “a road movie of the heart.” My Blueberry Nights, his first film in English, has been called an actual road movie, but it’s more of a destination film with three settings: East goes West when Elizabeth (Norah Jones) ditches New York with a broken heart and lights out for Memphis and the gambling hub of Ely, Nevada. Known as “Lizzie” in Memphis and “Beth” in Nevada, the shell-shocked Elizabeth has transformative interactions with the locals — Arnie (David Strathairn) and his estranged wife, Sue Lynne (Rachel Weisz), in Memphis, Natalie Portman’s troubled poker babe in Nevada — then returns to New York healed and with a great new hat. But the lovelorn cops in Chungking traverse a greater distance within the perimeter of the Midnight Express deli and the Chungking House hotel than Wong manages with all of Route 50 here. The disappointment in this case doesn’t have much to do with Wong doing America — he’s been doing America for years, even in Chinese — but with Wong seemingly doing Wong, and not up to his own standard. (The Landmark) (Michelle Orange)

 
GO  MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD The family as microcosm of a divided country: Two brothers “come of age” in late-’60s Italy, as political strife reaches their provincial Latina (a city laid out by Mussolini’s government). A bounding prologue shows younger Accio entering adolescence in seminary school, already a waiting vessel for any guiding ideology, begging his priest to relieve him from the temptation of treasured wank material. At home, his older brother Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) has become a Communist organizer, with looks and ardor scoring him plenty of revolutionary ass. Grown up a couple years, Accio — looking to big bro with an ambivalent combination of envy and upstart competitive contempt — applies for his Fascist card. That sibling break is exacerbated by Accio’s unrequited lust for one of Manrico’s disposable girlfriends. If expectedly cynical about junior black-shirt hooliganism, Daniele Luchetti’s film is also ambivalent about how piggishness takes the guise of “free love” among the left, and deadpan funny with its “de-fascisized” performance of “Ode to Joy” at a student-occupied conservatory. Tumultuously shot “rawness” is the stylistic house rule, but it’s Elio Germano’s Accio who vitalizes the film: He’s hyper-reactive, flickering between brash, bashful, playful, and awkward — offering a Swiss Army knife performance that’s diverse and yet totally unified. (Royal) (Nick Pinkerton)

 
NIM’S ISLAND About 30 years ago, this is precisely the kind of film that would’ve had Jodie Foster starring as the willful, resourceful, imaginative kiddo stuck on Paradise Island and waiting for her father to return — or not — following a storm that’s smashed their boat to bits. Only now the role of Nim goes to Abigail Breslin, natch, leaving Foster with the thankless task of playing the agoraphobic Alexandra Rover, author of a series of adventure tales starring her fearless alter-ego Alex — who, of course, speaks solely to Alexandra and is played as a spectral he-man by 300’s Gerard Butler, squeezed into Harrison Ford’s Indy hand-me-downs. Butler is also Nim’s lost-at-sea father, setting up the guess-what finale once Alexandra finally leaves the house and winds up on that remote island, for reasons far too complicated to explain in this tiny space. Yet despite its formula and flaws (chief among them Foster’s sitcom-campy performance), Nim’s Island is a perfectly pleasant, agreeably innocuous ’tweener adventure film: Home Alone relocated to sandy beaches, glowing oceans, and a forest in which father and daughter are perched in the most splendiferous tree house on God’s deep, dark green — at least until the storm rolls in and momentarily tears them asunder. They don’t make ’em like this anymore — haven’t, really, since Jodie Foster starred in Freaky Friday. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

 

 
GO THE RUINS If you turn the first page of Scott Smith’s The Ruins, a friend said astutely, you won’t put it down — but if you know what it’s about beforehand, you won’t pick it up. So let’s just say that if this reworking never approximates the abandon-all-hope ferocity of Smith’s hair-whitening source novel, it’s still a superior shocker with a mood-altering edge of hallucinatory madness. In an absurdist set-up that resembles Beckett by way of EC Comics, five tourists (four American, one German) are forced atop a remote Mayan temple, where they face two options: a quick death from the armed villagers who’ve surrounded the site, or a slow death from the snaky, insatiable tendrils of the ruins’ entrenched resident. What follows is a study in situational ethics, destabilized group dynamics, and existential panic, as each new choice between the lesser of two evils only brings greater evils. Though Smith adapted his own book, the briskly paced, neatly telescoped movie is too short to recapture its grinding psychological devastation, leaving a gory but strangely slight allegory of America’s dependence on creature comforts. But first-time feature director Carter Smith, working with resourceful cinematographer Darius Khondji, pulls off the neat trick of using the wide screen to claustrophobic effect. And the actors give such a convincing display of starvation-fueled fear that they deserve their own private craft-service table. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

 
SEX AND DEATH 101 Writer-director Daniel Waters, who scripted Heathers eons ago, inexplicably keeps gigging. Here, the name of the game is dull vulgarity trading as “deliciously dark” comedy — punchline sex with dwarfs, the dead, the infirm elderly, etc. Douche-nozzle Roderick Blank (Simon Baker), a thirtyish company man, is on the brink of matrimony when he receives a mysterious e-mail containing the names of all his sex partners up until then ... as well as the names of twice as many more. Once the list’s power of prophecy is confirmed at his bachelor party, he shakes free to go on a rampage down his magical file of sure things. There’s a decidedly throwback air to the whole endeavor, from the presence of Winona Ryder and The Facts of Life’s Natalie to its distinctly “Take Back the Night” sexual politics, as the city’s licentious fiends are bumped off by a female serial killer (Ryder) dubbed “Death Nell” by the press. Stupid monikers are just one symptom of a stultifying, overwritten cleverness that substitutes quirk for character. (Playhouse 7; Sunset 5)
(Nick Pinkerton)

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SHINE A LIGHT Click here for a full-length review by Scott Foundas. (Selected theaters)  


SUPERHERO MOVIE
Director Craig Mazin has delivered a groundbreaking, whip-smart comic-book spoof that deftly deconstructs the genre without relying on surface-level parody: It’s called The Specials, and it came out nearly eight years ago. Superhero Movie, which is only Mazin’s second directorial effort, is everything his first film wasn’t: predictable, flat, full of name-dropping, tragically unhip, and likely to make a decent amount of cash. Drake & Josh’s Drake Bell stars as Rick Riker, a hapless Tobey Maguire wannabe who gets bitten by a genetically enhanced insect and becomes the Dragonfly; what ensues is a silly Spider-Man spoof that’s ironically less witty than Sam Raimi’s source material. Note to the screenwriters: It’s clear you think that jokes ending in the words “MySpace,” “YouTube” and “Wikipedia” are automatically funny, but it just ain’t so. The best that can be said for Mazin is that he’s still a step up from the demonic duo of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Epic Movie), and Superhero Movie does deliver a small handful of laughs, thanks mostly to the presence of Jeffrey Tambor as a whacked-out doctor. But our standards for parody should be higher than this. (Citywide) (Luke Y. Thompson)

 

 
YOUNG YAKUZA Director Jean-Pierre Limosin’s Young Yakuza, a documentary on the immersion of a troubled Japanese youth into the shadowy, sorta-legal-but-still-illicit world of the Yakuza, never delivers either the thrill of its underworld setting or much insight into its complicated workings. Limosin’s cameras follow as the exasperated mother of 20-year-old Nokia turns him over to the Kumagi clan with hopes that he’ll learn discipline and gain focus in his life. Sounding like any businessman lamenting the poor crop of candidates before him, the clan leader offers the wry observation that, due to Japan’s generally lax and deteriorating expectations of its youth, it’s increasingly difficult to find young men with the qualities needed to become Yakuza. Limosin’s efforts to spice up Nokia’s tale with scenes of Japanese rappers don’t add the edge he’s seeking, but the film really loses steam when — more than half way through — Nokia vanishes and a new protagonist is jammed into place. For legal reasons, the replacement can’t be seen on camera, and the film’s already low-watt energy fizzes, never to pick back up. By the time Nokia finally reappears, the viewer is hard pressed to care. The film’s one unqualified high point is that it’s filmed in 35mm, a welcome respite from digital. (ImaginAsian Center) (Ernest Hardy)


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