Movie Reviews: Restrepo, Eyes Wide Open, The Sun Behind the Clouds

GO  EYES WIDE OPEN The subject of gay Orthodox Jews isn't new to film, but it's typically the stuff of documentaries (2001's Trembling Before G-d, among others). So Haim Tabakman's feature directorial debut, Eyes Wide Open, deserves not just political points but artistic ones as well: Overused adjectives like "patient" and "understated" are perfectly justified here. The simple story of devout family man and Jerusalem butcher Aaron (Zohar Shtrauss), who falls from grace via a love affair with hired hand Ezri (Ran Danker), Eyes abstains from all forms of shouting, dramatic excess or third-act eruptions of tragic violence. There are a few missteps: Aaron's profession means a few too many symbolic shots of meat being cut, and Aaron and Ezri's exile from the community is too neatly paralleled by a parent-unapproved straight couple's similar shunning. Mostly, though, it wins with excellent performances: Shtrauss never overplays his character's internal tension, nor does Danker camp up his youthful virility. Cinematographer Alex Schneppat frames the film gorgeously, and Tabakman knows where the occasional showy effect can be inserted for emphasis. Not groundbreaking but definitely a cut above. (Vadim Rizov) (Sunset 5)

GROWN UPS You've probably seen the poster for Grown Ups, with its stars — Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Kevin James — barreling down a waterslide. Or is the verb I'm looking for "coasting"? Grown Ups begins with a flashback to a 1978 boys' basketball championship, where the starting five look like 12-year-old versions of the aforementioned lineup. We catch up with the teammates 30 years later, reunited for Coach's funeral in their New England hometown (helpfully identified onscreen as "New England"). Entrusted with Coach's ashes, the boys and their families head for their old summer-getaway lodge, where they sit in Adirondack chairs by a perpetually gold-shimmering lake. The guest list includes the urn, Rock's stock-comic mother-in-law, a dog with snipped vocal cords, five men, four wives and 10 kids. This small army becomes a gridlock of gags and plotlines, with conflicts and assigned traits dropped and hastily retrieved as needed. Maya Rudolph is the only capable comedienne among the wives, and the men are either unfunny or, if given fewer lines, useless. Though the uncynical goodwill that accompanies Sandler's work makes footing this vacation bill less enraging than the toxic Couples Retreat, it's one of those Sandler movies where the inevitable Steve Buscemi cameo passes for the highlight. While Sandler has never trafficked in epigrammatic wit, there's a difference between, say, Billy Madison's "Of course I peed my pants — everyone my age pees their pants," and this lazy stuff — the difference between smart dumb and plain dumb. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)

JONAH HEX Bracingly inept, Chef Boyardee spaghetti Western Jonah Hex is the rare 80-minute movie that you can't even call "taut." Rather than teasing out curiosity about its outcast hero's past, Jonah pelts the viewer with clumps of exposition, including a hasty comic book–graphic origin montage illustrating the strange case of Hex (Josh Brolin), a former Confederate war machine whose near-death experience gave him the ability to talk to the departed — hardly utilized or meaningful, given the movie's fatuous killing. We catch up with Hex roaming the steam-punk Wild (Wild) West, now a heavy-ordinance bounty hunter with his face half-melted into a permanent growl, a reminder of the former commanding officer, Turnbull, who destroyed his life (played by John Malkovich, pulling his purring villain off the shelf). It's 1876, and guess who is plotting to construct a sort-of Doomsday Merrimack to sail into the Chesapeake Bay and level Washington, D.C., for President Grant's July 4th centenary address. Grudgingly tapped to save the Union, Jonah gets help from strategic Black Friend gadgeteer Lance Reddick and strumpet gal-pal Megan Fox, who looks like she's waiting for the invention of clear heels. Metal outfit Mastodon's sound-track riffs never lock down a groove with the image, interesting actors flit by barely used, and franchise ambitions quietly expire. (Nick Pinkerton) (Citywide)

THE KILLER INSIDE ME The premise of The Killer Inside Me — directed by Michael Winterbottom from Jim Thompson's 1952 crime novel — could be summed up in a classified ad: Texas cop with pleasant boyish demeanor seeks compliant dames for sadistic sex games culminating in murder. Thompson's fearsome tale is recounted in the first person by a blatantly unreliable narrator. Foisting himself on the world as a gentlemanly, platitude-spouting Jimmy Stewart type, Lou Ford is less a character than an act. The ease with which the killer cop outwits the other characters is matched only by the apparent rationality with which this self-conscious psychopath explicates his increasingly brutal crimes. The Killer Inside Me isn't even so much a novel, let alone a thriller, as a vacuum that inexorably sucks the reader into a moral black hole. Perhaps this malign fiction could have been filmed in the manner of Isidore Isou's notorious Venom and Eternity — a black screen and an unending rant. Winterbottom's version is Classic Comics. The characters are stiffly drawn, the action is fastidiously staged, the production design is self-consciously retro. No shortage of cheap thrills, though: Lou (Casey Affleck) smiles affably as he stubs out his cigarette in a derelict's outstretched palm or sets about beating his adoring punching bags — a hot Grown Ups hooker (Jessica Alba) and a hard-faced schoolteacher (Kate Hudson) — until they're black-and-blue or (much, much) worse. Winterbottom's greatest asset is Affleck, convincing enough to keep The Killer Inside Me from being just a steamy, stylish, punishing bloodbath. (J. Hoberman) (Nuart)


KNIGHT AND DAY You know and love Jason Bourne as an implacable killing machine. But what if he were instead a mouthy asshole? That's the provocative question posed by James Mangold's Knight and Day, which casts Tom Cruise as a Bourne wannabe who seriously can't shut up. As Roy Miller, an agent gone rogue from the FBI or the NSA or the CIA or whatever the fuck, Cruise never stops flapping his gums. He's just so irritating, Roy Miller. Or, really, it's Tom Cruise who's irritating. There's never been a particularly crisp line between intense, super-awesome Tom Cruise and the characters he plays. In Knight and Day, Cruise's age-old cool curdles into motormouthed neediness. Approaching 50, he suddenly seems desperate for our love. The love Roy Miller's angling for is that of June Havens, a plucky cipher played by Cameron Diaz, who Roy runs into — literally! — in the Wichita airport. He's handsome enough, she's apparently on the prowl, and their flight to Boston is filled with torrid flirting and enemy agents. One unconvincingly filmed plane crash later, the two are on the run, with the explosions, gunplay and spycraft provoking an awakening in June's soul. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the hunt for a precocious scientist (Paul Dano) who has invented a perpetual-energy battery. In the end, you may wonder if the makers of this hyperactive, joyless thriller didn't stumble upon a perpetual-energy battery themselves — and not for the good: Knight and Day keeps going, and going and going. (Dan Kois) (Citywide)

LET IT RAIN A specialist in choreographing talky scenes, Agnès Jaoui may also be the most aggressively middlebrow filmmaker working today. Her latest, which, like The Taste of Others (2000) and Look at Me (2004), she co-wrote with co-star (and former spouse) Jean-Pierre Bacri, dabbles in potentially provocative topics like racism and sexism — what one character keenly refers to as "ordinary humiliation" — only to quickly drop them for a Nina Simone–scored scene of gazing at old family photos. Solipsistic feminist writer and politician Agathe (Jaoui) returns to her childhood home in Provence to help her aggrieved younger sister sort through their dead mother's affairs; while there, she agrees to be interviewed for a documentary on successful women by Karim (Jamel Debbouze), the son of her family's housekeeper, and Michel (Bacri), a washed-up TV journo. Aiming to be a seriocomic movie of ideas but desperate not to offend or challenge, Let It Rain soon settles for being another smug comedy of bourgeois manners, with buzzing cell phones frequently deployed as exemplars of Our Modern Folly. Look at Me, with its consistent through line of how hard it is for fat girls, seems like the work of a Redstocking in comparison. (Melissa Anderson) (Fallbrook, Playhouse, Sunset 5, Town Center)

GO  RESTREPO Amid a glut of amped nonfiction films about the U.S. at war, journalists Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger's documentary about their 2007 stay with an American platoon in a Taliban-infested region of Afghanistan raises its voice by lowering it. Stripped almost bare of mood music, input from experts or Army poobahs, this hypervérité film belongs to the soldiers whose daily routines it follows as they hole up in a valley that turns them into "fish in a barrel" for Taliban snipers. The warrior drama unfolds organically, without artificial suspense. The film moves to the rhythms of a combat soldier's life in the field, which consists of long periods of unspeakable tedium interrupted by the confused mayhem of battle with an unseen enemy. Were it not punctuated with postdeployment testimony from the absurdly young surviving soldiers back at their base in Italy, the film would unfold almost without formal structure. If Restrepo shares the sympathy for its raw young subjects that marks most current films about the U.S. military abroad, it is neither romantic nor sentimental about the impossibly contradictory tasks with which these men have been charged, and the sometimes clueless ways in which they try to maintain good relations with local communities even as they bomb the crap out of their villages. Talk about the fog of war. (Ella Taylor) (Landmark)


RAAVAN The plight of a Western critic tackling the modern Bollywood blockbuster: Although a sea change has increased its appeal to international audiences (the standard three-hour-plus running times are suddenly truncated; the violence and sexual innuendos are more overt), the supersize melodrama inherent in populist Hindi cinema often feels strained and corny to our unadjusted senses. Nothing has changed there in director Mani Ratnam's epic reunion with his Guru leads (superstars Abhishek Bachchan and his real-life spouse, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), a loose reboot of the ancient Sanskrit poem Ramayana as a cops-and-robbers thriller — with all the requisite romance, singing and dancing. Roguish bandit Beera (Bachchan), the protective leader of the oppressed Lal Maati have-nots, has kidnapped free-spirited classical dancer Ragini (Rai Bachchan) as part of a personal vendetta against her husband, aggressive police inspector Dev (Vikram). Feared, revered and said to have 10 heads while being everywhere at once, Beera bugs out his eyes and hides in shadows to appear brutish, yet Ragini falls for him anyway. The love triangle is as tediously underwhelming as the slo-mo action, but the actors, costumes and lush mountainsides are easy on the eye, and Slumdog Millionaire composer A.R. Rahman's bouncy, Sufi-tronic score is a real foot-tapper. (Aaron Hillis) (Culver Plaza, Fallbrook)

ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD Hamlet gets the meta-treatment in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead, a hipster vampire farce that layers genre goofs over a twisted restaging of the play. That a similar — if less gruesome — spin-off already exists (Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) only adds to the film's antic mash-up vibe. "Doesn't anyone make anything up anymore?" complains Julian (Jake Hoffman), after learning that Theo (John Ventimiglia), a distinctly wan writer who has commissioned him to direct his Hamlet remix, has put an autobiographical spin on the material. All of the riffs are twice and thrice removed, but the effect is lively rather than tiresome, largely on the strength of game performances, Sean Lennon's atmospheric score and writer/director Jordan Galland's clear affection for his sources. The Byzantine plot has Theo, a Romanian letch and stone vampire, staging his version of Hamlet in the hopes of luring the prince himself — who broke the vampire's curse and has been curing the undead for centuries — through the veils of time to finally settle their score. Only the director is safe, and when he starts losing cast members (most memorably a fully committed Kris Lemche in the lead role), some serious stake-driving action — involving Ralph Macchio as a mooky boyfriend and Jeremy Sisto as a chatty detective — must be taken. (Michelle Orange) (Sunset 5)

GO  THE SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS Documenting both the largest Tibetan uprising since the 1959 Chinese takeover and the Dalai Lama's pre–Beijing Olympics diplomatic tour, The Sun Behind the Clouds offers a succinct and sober look at the philosophical impasse at the heart of the Tibetan cause. In early 2008, co-directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam (a married couple and frequent collaborators on Tibet- and Asian-themed documentaries) hit the road with a group of fed-up Buddhist monks on a march from India into Tibet and followed the Dalai Lama as he continued to plead his case for a "middle way" between independence from China and a "meaningful autonomy" that protects Tibetan language and culture. The pitched battle between the Lama and the Chinese evinces politics at its worst, and many Tibetans have had enough. Clouds teases out the contradiction between the Lama's power as a symbol to the fiercely loyal Tibetan people, and that of his diplomatic voice, which he is using to push what they see as an impotent agenda. The most heated confrontation here finds Tibet's famously serene monks reduced to a finger-pointing screaming match. It's a scene that suggests both the fondest wish of the Chinese — to divide the enemy against itself — and the increasing desperation for justice within the Lama's lifetime. (Michelle Orange) (Monica)

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >