Movie Reviews: Indestructible, Reprise, Water Lillies

BLOODLINE Faintly ridiculous but strangely watchable, director Bruce Burgess’ documentary explores the controversial theory that powered Dan Brown’s pulp juggernaut The Da Vinci Code: that the Catholic Church supposedly covered up Jesus Christ’s child with secret wife Mary Magdalene. While other investigative-nonfiction filmmakers pop blood vessels exaggerating the magnitude of their paltry findings, it’s some relief that Burgess, who serves as Bloodline’s onscreen narrator, remains doubtful of the “proof” he uncovers, such as buried bottles in France with treasure-map clues leading to embalmed corpses. But considering that he has previously made films about Area 51 and Bigfoot, it’s hard to take his role as a skeptic that seriously — more likely, he just enjoys milking an audience’s conspiracy-theory fascination without having to worry about producing meaningful results. Despite the fact that several people who claimed to possess evidence about the cover-up have died under mysterious circumstances, Bloodline is less a gripping exposé than a goofy National Treasure–style puzzle film mixed with a sub–Nick Broomfield survey of some admittedly oddball individuals. But when Burgess tries to craft an ambiguous, even ominous ending out of his inconclusive study, it seems painfully ironic that a film questioning other people’s faith would ask us to take a documentary this slipshod at its word. (Culver Plaza; Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)


HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS SPENT THEIR SUMMER Writer-director Georgina Garcia Riedel’s feature debut is so good for so long that it breaks the heart to watch the film lose its way. Opening with silent, static shots of the characters’ sleepy Arizona community, How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer orients you to the marginal lives of three generations of single Garcia women — widowed grandmother Doña (Lucy Gallardo), divorced mother Lolita (Elizabeth Peña), and virgin daughter Blanca (America Ferrera) — who will soon experience a series of tentative romantic encounters. It’s a testament to Riedel’s talent that their complicated love affairs become an opening to examine small-town poverty, female sexuality and the ways we learn about relationships from our family’s mistakes. But after first resisting the urge to make the Garcias’ misadventures adorable, Riedel turns her naturalistic drama into Sex and the City, coupling the nicely ­nuanced women with caricatured men who are either lovable saints or horny buffoons. The exception is Blanca’s unpredictable roundelay with a dashing but manipulative out-of-towner (Leo Minaya) — indeed, theirs is the only relationship that possesses the random strangeness of real life, sparking hope that Riedel will continue to mine similarly compelling terrain in the future by trying to understand her male characters as deeply as she does their female counterparts. (Burbank Town Center 8; Glendale Exchange; Plant 16; Sunset 5) (Tim Grierson)


GO  INDESTRUCTIBLE At age 31, Ben Byer, an aspiring actor and playwright from Chicago, was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the fatal neurodegenerative disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Like most people diagnosed with ALS, Byer was given two to five years to live. The stark urgency of that prognosis spurred him to collaborate with childhood friend and documentarian Roko Belic (Genghis Blues) on Indestructible, in which Byer turns the camera on himself as he confronts the onset of an illness for which there is no certain cause. Though it’s anchored in one young man’s story, the film contains two separate documentaries. The first intends to raise awareness about ALS and a Westernized health-care system unable to adequately treat a disease about which so little is known. We follow Byer from his parents’ home in Wisconsin to Greece, Jamaica and Beijing, where he experiments with alternative medicines, ranging from marijuana to a controversial brain-surgery procedure, and visits with other ALS patients. The second documentary focuses on Byer’s struggle with the emotional and spiritual toll of the disease. He approaches patients, doctors and religious leaders with the same plaintive, unfathomable question: “Why did this happen to me?” Byer’s sincerity is the grounding force in a film that serves as a wrenching reminder that the answers to our most essential questions must come from within. (Grande 4-Plex) (Sam Sweet)


NOISE Tim Robbins should get out and stretch those funny bones more often, if it results in a performance as luggishly nutty as he gives in this likable — if intellectually overstuffed — urban comedy from writer-director Henry Bean. Robbins plays David Owen, an attorney unhinged by street noise in his tony Manhattan neighborhood, whose idea of good citizenship is to take a hammer to the windows of cars with runaway alarm systems. The behavior loses him his job and his marriage to a loving wife (Bridget Moynahan, intelligently wry) and puts him at odds with New York’s blowhard mayor (a wily William Hurt). It also gives him exponentially increasing satisfaction — not to mention popularity among the similarly afflicted — as a local vigilante, the Rectifier. Bean, who’s written many thrillers and brought us Ryan Gosling as a Jewish Nazi in The Believer, has made an action-comedy of ideas, for which I thank him in principle, since action and ideas rarely coincide at the movies. But Noise has too many warring genres on the boil and too many thoughts jockeying for supremacy. I’m still trying to figure out how Hegel got in there, other than to facilitate a surfeit of between-the-sheets discussions about power and responsibility between David and a pneumatic, enigmatic young Russian (Margarita Levieva), whose function in the movie is exactly ... what? (Sunset 5) (Ella Taylor)



GO  REPRISE Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s dazzlingly kinetic tale of two aspiring novelists is bounded by fantasies of what might have become of the pair after the publication of their first books. But the entire film plays out in the past-, present- and future-conditional tense — a bold experiment in narrative and style that in less passionate or skilled hands might well have ended up as the self-indulgent wank so many po-mo novice filmmakers, drunk on technique and existential bombast, have to get off their chests before they give up or get down to business. In one sense, that’s precisely what Reprise is about. The tension between alienation and belonging, between ambition and pretension, the chasm between dreams and reality, plays out in the divergent stories of the two writers and their friends and lovers, equal-opportunity admirers of punk bands, cult novelists and Henry James. Six months after the publication of his novel, fragile, sensitive Phillip (played by Anderson Danielsen Lie, a doctor and musician) is hospitalized for an emotional breakdown, calling into question his brilliant future and his relationship with his girfriend Kari (model and musician Viktoria Winge). Meanwhile, Phillip’s seemingly less talented best friend, Erik (advertising copywriter Espen Klouman Høiner), a goofball with a perennial slack grin on his face, wins sudden success with his own ridiculously named opus, and weighs leaving his own supportive lover. Trier, who’s distantly related to that other adventurous Trier (Lars von), doesn’t want you “making sense” of the characters’ ups and downs for a long time, if ever. But Reprise — a masculine story whose women come off best — is less a hermeneutic finger in your face (though it aims wonderfully low blows at literary celebrity) than a savage, funny, tender, tragic and strangely beautiful riff on being young and growing up in a broken world. (Sunset 5) (Ella Taylor)


PICK GO  ROMAN DE GARE Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman may be one of the silliest love songs in the canon of French fluff, but 42 years on, it gets a beguiling makeover in this new soufflé from the director, who seizes the day both to trade on and shake off his enduring reputation as France’s reigning romantic airhead. Roman de Gare — which loosely translates as “airport novel” and was written and directed under the pseudonym Hervé Picard — is stuffed with fakers who run the gamut from hapless to charming to vaguely sinister. At the center is an unlikely couple: a celebrity-mad provincial neurotic (the appealing Audrey Dana), who’s either a hairdresser or a hooker, and a pug-faced stranger (Delicatessen star Dominique Pinon), who’s either a serial killer, a teacher on the run from his wife and kids or the ghostwriter for a famous novelist (played by Fanny Ardant). Slyly bookmarking the early audience hit that also got him slimed by elite critics, Lelouch shoots his characters through rainy car windows or chugging back Burgundy on a fancy yacht. But this goofy tale of self-emancipation, a love story made by a mature man wise to the possibilities of the improbable, is also a thriller with an unexpectedly dark edge, littered with winks in the direction of that other murder mystery, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1947 Quai des Orfèvres, whose police inspector happened to be a certain Monsieur Picard. (The Landmark; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

GO  TURN THE RIVER Kailey (Famke Janssen) is getting on 40, living in an upstate limbo, driving to NYC for clandestine meetings with the 12-year-old son that her ex-stepmom tries to keep from her. She’s undesirable because she lives off poker and trolling money games at Rip Torn’s underlit, underpopulated pool hall (its drabness accentuated by a sludgy 16mm transfer). When a woman fills a traditionally male role, you’re bound to find strange frictions — scenes around the pool table are fraught as each pocketed ball impacts the egos involved, the tactile threat of imperiled manhood a constant undertone. While buying the freshly exfoliated Janssen as a beer-battered hard case requires suspended disbelief, her low-key treatment beats the ostentatious frowsing-down that’s usually counterfeited for range when a beautiful woman plays “against type.” Writer-director by Chris Eigeman, one of America’s finest comic actors (best showcased in Whit Stillman’s films), seems aware of the risk that his film runs of drifting into the untenable, and so he painstakingly anchors it with double knots of character development, weaving in a network of supporting parts and a real sense of how people support or subvert one another in their screwed-up relationships. Turn the River can’t weather the ante-upping into pathos when Kailey desperately reasserts her privilege of motherhood — but the sense of storytelling intelligence is undeniable. (Regent Showcase) (Nick Pinkerton)



GO  UNSETTLED Punctuating his legacy with a major question mark, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon presided over the forced evacuation of Israeli settlers from Gaza and the West Bank in 2005. Having encouraged such settlements throughout his long military and political career, the increasing instability and bloodshed they caused presented Sharon with an extremely tough call. For the settlers, it was the ultimate betrayal, and even those who agreed with the move acknowledged that it was fraught. Unsettled, Adam Hootnick’s burningly smart documentary, delves into this national crisis. Though it was quickly done and left no body count, Hootnick deftly illustrates how the evacuation cut to the heart of the question of Israeli identity: Limning a spectrum of Israeli youth — settlers, soldiers, activists — he records the supremely emotional showdown that resulted when soldiers forced fellow Jews from their homes. “Are you a real Jew or a robot Jew?” one young settler demands of a soldier. “If you don’t cry, you’re not a Jew!” an older woman admonishes. Hootnick focuses solely on the inter-Israeli situation and does not delve into the Arab/Palestinian side of this complicated equation. The reasoned arguments of these motivated, eloquent young people and the passionate but substantive confrontations in the streets are strangely heartwarming; it’s a level of engagement that has proven sadly elusive for most conflicted countries, including this one. (Music Hall) (Michelle Orange)

GO  UP THE YANGTZE “It’s hard being a human, but being a common person in China is even more difficult,” says one tearful shopkeeper along the soon-to-be-submerged banks of the Yangtze River in Sino-Canadian documentary filmmaker Yung Chang’s lucid, beautifully observed portrait of the same incipient flood zone that served as the backdrop for Jia Zhangke’s Still Life and its companion documentary, Dong. Whereas Jia turned his attention to the 2 million zombielike former residents forced to relocate on account of the world’s largest hydroelectric-dam project, Chang focuses on the luxury pleasure boats that sail up and down the titular waterway, offering tourists a “farewell” cruise through this ghostly landscape of crumbling buildings painted with water-level markers (150m, 175m, etc.). The ships themselves are hardly less surreal, as elderly cabaret singers rub elbows with young Chinese staffers who have been given American names and instructed in the politesse of dealing with the (mostly) Western clientele. (“Don’t talk about monarchies, royal families, Northern Ireland or the independence of Quebec.”) For 16-year-old Yu Shui (a.k.a “Cindy”), whose subsistence-farming family will soon be displaced by the flooding, the job is her sole hope of someday being able to afford a higher education. Meanwhile, the cocky city boy Chen Bo Yu (a.k.a “Jerry”) sees the cruise as the ideal place to perfect his English and his outgoing Westernized demeanor. By journey’s end, Chang has found, in the Yangtze, a brilliant natural metaphor for upward mobility in modern China: Whether they hail from the lowlands or the urban centers, everyone here is scrambling to reach higher ground. (Royal; Playhouse 7; TownCenter 5) (Scott Foundas)


GO  WATER LILLIES The camaraderie of the undesired: Invisible to everyone else, pinched, late-blooming Marie (Pauline Acquart) pairs with Anne (Louise Blachère), a heavy girl with a pasty food-court complexion. Cruelly cloddish on dry land, Anne provides their only link to the larger social world through her synchronized-swimming extracurriculars. Complications come at poolside, where the two-girl clique meets Floriane (Adele Haenel), a swimmer who’s come through puberty with all the right proportions and whose beauty entrances Marie. Flo won’t give it up to her appropriately hot partner, François, after whom Anne ineptly pines — and so a trickle-down chain of exploit-the-weaker is set in motion. The p.o.v. is fixed: Neither object of desire is seen outside of Marie’s and Anne’s lives; adult authority is alluded to but never present (the effect is more Massacre at Central High than Peanuts). Completing the convergence of rare young talents is the director, 27-year-old Frenchwoman Céline Sciamma. Her feature debut doesn’t quite have the stun of discovery — mortified adolescent sexuality is something of a national specialty, after all — though she inexhaustibly endeavors after the indelible image. (Nuart) (Nick Pinkerton)


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