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Movie Reviews: Jonas Brothers: The 3-D Concert Experience, Must Read After My Death, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li

30 Century Man

BOB FUNK Movies — especially inconsequential, earnest comedies like Bob Funk — about how people “achieved” their sobriety — are as fascinating as listening to people recount the plot of their dreams. With all due respect to Leo Tolstoy, all unhappy film families in which someone ascends those “12 steps” are exactly alike. Though certainly not as noxious as Rachel Getting Married, Craig Carlisle’s directorial debut similarly insists that we find charm in its protagonist’s most odious behavior. Self-medicating to dull the pain of a dead dad, an ex-wife and a mom (Grace Zabriskie) who demotes him from VP of sales in the family-futon emporium to its custodian, the titular drunk (Michael Leydon Campbell) rages and pukes. Mother Funk insists her son enter therapy with a woman head-shrinker, leading to AA meetings and the pretty new associate at the office (Rachael Leigh Cook) telling Bob, “The truth is the only thing you never have to be ashamed of.” Failing as a satire of cubicle culture (Amy Ryan’s inexplicable cameo only makes you wish you were watching The Office) and too thin to convincingly play out its redemption story, Bob Funk, at the very least, has no scenes on how to load a dishwasher properly. (Sunset 5) (Melissa Anderson)

CHERRY BLOSSOMS At least once a year, the canny distributors at Strand Releasing shell out for a crowd-pleaser to shore up their artier numbers. To kick off 2009, they’ve opted for the latest from German writer-director Doris Dörrie, who started out just dandy with the outrageous 1984 comedy Men and has settled for charming neo-hippie fripperies pretty much ever since. Life’s rich impermanence looms large and heavy over this sweetly shopworn parable of transformation about an aging, routine-bound bourgeois (Elmar Wepper), who adores his wife (Hannelore Elsner) but has never grooved to her love of Japanese butoh, an art form combining hippie culture with German expressionist dance. Believe it or not, the couple is called Rudi and Trudi, and no source of pathos goes unmined, as Rudi, suddenly alone, travels to Japan to reconnect with one of his troubled children. Instead, with a homeless young butoh dancer (Aya Irizuki) murmuring spiritual nothings in his ear, he finds himself on an eleventh-hour journey to healing at the foot of scenic Mount Fuji. The best I can say for Cherry Blossoms is that it’s made with love; the worst, that it’s been a big hit in Germany. Yearning for Ozu, Dörrie stops off at cute, and parks. (Music Hall; Town Center 5) (Ella Taylor)

DOG EAT DOG Congratulations, Colombia! You’ve caught up with America’s rich cinematic tradition and produced one of your own trashy, cliché-riddled, post-Tarantino gangster movies. The country’s official Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Language Film — and its first-ever feature to be invited to Sundance — Dog Eat Dog follows sour-pussed thug Victor (Marlon Moreno Solarte), a seemingly smart cat who moronically knocks over the first domino when he pockets the money he’s been hired to collect for nihilistic kingpin El Orejón (Blas Jaramillo). Now holed up in a hotel room with Eusebio (Óscar Borda) — a hired goon who has been put under a deadly curse by El Orejón’s cigar-smoking voodoo priestess — Victor tries to pre-ordain the double- and triple-crosses of the crime genre, unaware that he’ll mostly be knocked around by the deus ex machina end of a mediocre screenwriter’s pool cue. With his background in television and music videos, director Carlos Moreno’s feature debut is mighty shallow. Its bloodshed carries little weight; the sporadic humor is cheap and casually racist. The only entertainment to mine from the glum proceedings (and incessant spitting!) is in its ironically upbeat Latin pop score. Yawn. (Grande 4-Plex) (Aaron Hillis)

ECHELON CONSPIRACY The box-office-suicide title refers to the National Security Agency’s database for collecting surveillance material. Echelon Conspiracy’s “chilling” what-if proposition is that it should become a sentient, self-operating force — aptly, the screenplay’s blind trowelling of action clichés (“You try to run and I will hunt you down!”) seems like the work of Final Draft operating on its own. Or of Pat Hobby. Or of ... Iron Eagle scribe Kevin Elders. Shane West, apparently being paid for every finicky overreaction, is an American tech guy abroad, swept into a Mysterious International Conspiracy after his random receipt of a clairvoyant cell phone that text-messages him the keys to easy money ... and easy death. Exposition is reeled out with Bangkok, Prague and Moscow variously visible in the background. Edward Burns, with his eternal air of midtown bartender, drops in as a casino detective/ex-government operative. Digressions to dyspeptic overseer Martin Sheen in a commercial park building playing NSA headquarters open the door to some lazy-cynical Buck Fush material. Given the passivity of computer use, the “hacker thriller” is film history’s great running joke, but special attention should go to Echelon Conspiracy’s authors for conceiving a climax that tries to juice tension out of someone using a search engine and staring at a download countdown. (Selected theaters) (Nick Pinkerton)

 

JONAS BROTHERS: THE 3-D CONCERT EXPERIENCE Following the franchise template of fellow Hollywood Records–Disney property Miley Cyrus, here’s a dose of America’s favorite soft-serve rockers for the local pubescents. Between 3-D concert clips, the Jonas boys gallivant about Manhattan; thank this movie for NYU’s horrible incoming freshmen girls, circa 2016. Reiterating Hard Day’s Night nods, an incidental montage connects the brothers to a lineage of adolescent heartthrobs. Even in the context of pop-to-statutorily-rape-virgin-eardrums, it’s difficult to rate the Jonases. The tunes are no-stick. Presuming the brothers have distinct personalities, they don’t shine in the “casual” filler; at best, they’re an all–Davy Jones Monkees with varsity soccer co-captain good looks. The chaste Jonases sport promise rings and keep the trouser bulge under control, but some subconscious lasciviousness bubbles up as they jut their microphones out of the screen — and then there’s the bit where they hose down the crowd with (and this actually happens) fountains of sticky white goo. Taking the stage, alongside a platoon of session men riffing for their supper while the boys do their tumbling act, are walk-ons like grinning, dusted sugarplum Demi Lovato and Miss Taylor Swift, singing her jilted, avenging-angel “Should’ve Said No.” Thanks to intrusive dueting, Swift doesn’t top the barnburning theatrics of her CMA performance, but amid such company she’s positively hardcore. (Citywide) (Nick Pinkerton)

MADEA GOES TO JAIL When we last saw Tyler Perry’s signature character — the bosomy, blunt-smoking, Glock-yielding Georgia granny — she and her brother, Joe (also Perry), were being pulled over by the po-po in a cameo in last March’s Meet the Browns (this is Perry’s third film in 11 months). Wearing a fat suit and earrings for more than two minutes for the first time since Madea’s Family Reunion (2006), Perry isn’t content to operate in one genre when he can stuff in at least three. He leavens — not altogether seamlessly — his ludicrous fallen-woman melodrama (Assistant D.A. Derek Luke is determined to save crazy-wigged prostitute Keshia Knight Pulliam, a childhood friend who took a bad turn after two years in college) with Madea’s broad humor: “I’ll rip out your urethra tube!” Check off all of Perry’s motifs: vilification of the black bourgie princess, tough-love Christian messages, Academy Award–nominated actresses (Viola Davis, this time) managing to maintain their dignity. As ridiculous as his films frequently are, Perry, a shrewd yet benevolent showman, knows and loves his audience. And 2009 is a particularly resonant year for Madea, who, though she out-bullies Dr. Phil and beats a butch blonde yard bird into submission, still isn’t as tough as the grandma now living in the White House. (Citywide) (Melissa Anderson)

GO  MUST READ AFTER MY DEATH Who owns this devastating documentary portrait of domestic misery in early-1960s suburban America? Charley, the angry, tidiness-obsessed father whose careless updates about his multiple infidelities to his wife, Allis, sound less like confessions than salt rubbed carefully into the wounds of her alleged insufficiencies? Allis, who is heard confiding her escalating unhappiness into a crackly Dictaphone originally purchased to narrow the gulf between her and the husband whose work took him away from home for long stretches? The shrink, who bullied and tranquilized her into taking the blame for her husband’s peccadilloes and her children’s difficulties? Or the couple’s grandson, filmmaker Morgan Dews, who juxtaposes Allis’ high, querulous and increasingly desperate recorded voice with the pitifully banal home movies that show Charley, an unlikely Lothario in specs and a bald pate, posing or roughhousing with the grinning kids we know to be sliding into depression and dysfunction? An artful arranger of evidence, Dews tacitly shifts the balance of domestic power to his grandmother. Honoring both her shocking vulnerability and the rebellious spirit that her domineering spouse never fully quashed, Dews helps Allis hold out a gendered posthumous snapshot of an era whose smug surface, barely masking oceans of suffering, makes Revolutionary Road look like a tea party. (Sunset 5) (Ella Taylor)

STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI “Sometimes you must stand up when standing is not easy,” goes the movie’s mantra (or something to that effect); most viewers will come away replacing “stand” with “throw.” It’s been 15 years since the first (and one presumed incorrectly, last) adaptation of the Street Fighter video game, and the fumes are only now leaving theaters. Proving that there’s no statute of limitations on lousy ideas, director Andrzej Bartkowiak’s attempted franchise expansion returns to the Capcom motherlode that produced the worst movie in the entire Jean-Claude Van Damme filmography. Playing a classical pianist who evidently studied with Harvey Keitel in Fingers, Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk stars as the bereft daughter who channels her rage against the world’s evildoers — starting with the blue-eyed devil (Neal McDonough) who’s secretly holding her father hostage. Her vigilantism is sorely needed, given what passes for law enforcement in the movie’s crime-ridden Bangkok: a glamourpuss detective (Moon Bloodgood) whose deductive powers stop at observing “something’s going down!” when hundreds of people flee a nightclub, and a stubbly Interpol agent played by that international man of mystery, American Pie’s Chris Klein. Idiot plotting and dialogue are what you’d expect from a genre that typically rewards narrative development with a skip function. But the rote fight scenes are a disappointment: Fans will get far bigger kicks (and highs) out of the ka-razy Thai import Chocolate — although the appealing Kreuk invests even the movie’s Miyagi-speak with feeling. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

 

GO  SCOTT WALKER: 30 CENTURY MAN Possessed of a lugubrious, histrionic baritone that could make the most trifling of pop ditties sound like a slow dance on the brink of apocalypse, Scott Walker may be the unlikeliest figure to maintain any presence on oldies radio, thanks to the Walker Brothers’ majestically despondent 1966 smash, “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” From the increasingly experimental solo records that followed, and Walker’s subsequent reputation as a reclusive genius and cult figure, you’d expect the subject of Stephen Kijak’s documentary to be a forbidding, pretentious artiste — and the pleasant surprise of Kijak’s film is that Walker is anything but. Ignore the movie’s occasional heavy-breathing narration and Willy Wonka–esque graphics: In down-to-earth interviews all the more precious for their rarity, the Ohio-born teen idol turned industrial-cabaret innovator comes across not as a Jandek-like eccentric or obscurantist but as a man trying to realize abstract visions through exacting concrete means. And if that means demanding retakes of a percussionist punching a side of meat (for Walker’s 2006 album, The Drift), Kijak lets the results speak eloquently for themselves. Admirers and followers ranging from David Bowie (the movie’s executive producer) and Brian Eno to Radiohead and Pulp’s suavely arch Jarvis Cocker testify to Walker’s originality and importance, but for fans, the doc’s biggest revelation may be the extent of his stardom, even as he began to explore bawdy Jacques Brel chansons and psychedelic dada crooning. In England, the Walker Brothers rivaled and perhaps surpassed the Beatles in popularity, and Kijak amasses evidence (including electrifying BBC performance clips) to show that Walker’s teenybopper audience followed his experimentation, at least for three initial solo albums. Given Walker’s notoriously unhurried methods, footage of him consulting with Leos Carax about the scoring of the director’s gloriously mad Pola X are like glimpses of an obsessive’s Olympus — the next best thing to witnessing a powwow between Phil Spector and Werner Herzog. (Nuart) (Jim Ridley)

 


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