Movie Reviews: The End of the Line, The Proposal, Whatever Works
GO DAYTIME DRINKING The early warnings of Noh Young-seok’s debut feature from the festival circuit suggested either a South Korean variation on mumblecore or Soju Hangover. Thank the Lord Daytime Drinking (Not Sool) is neither of those things but rather a dry, minimalist comedy about a puzzled sad sack (Song Sam-dong), abandoned by his buddies before a planned road trip, who stumbles into one cringingly awkward situation after another, aided and abetted by the fact that Koreans consider it grossly rude to refuse any alcoholic beverage offered in friendship. Some of the specific drunken complications may have an overly familiar, nightmare-vacation ring — such as our hero being lionized by a kinky couple, drugged and left stranded on a remote mountain highway in his underpants. But Song has admirable deadpan comic timing, with an undercurrent of panic, and the leafless locales depict a midwintry Korea as surreally drab as the permafrost Finland of Aki Kaurismäki’s black-comic road movies. The characters seem to take a masochistic pride in being able to endure a landscape this dreary without slitting their wrists, huddled around fires made from twigs, drinking ginseng and garlic-flavored home brew out of paper cups. The movie leaves a warm glow. (Music Hall) (David Chute)
GO THE END OF THE LINE We’re overwhelmed by crises these days (financial, terrorist, climate, midlife), and, as if we needed to be depressed any further, each seems to leave a four-alarm doc in its wake. Unknown White Male director Rupert Murray’s convincing and emotive adjunct to the doomsday genre — based on British journo Charles Clover’s book of the same name, subtitled How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat — posits that seafood will be extinct by 2048. “Cod, dammit!,” the Newfoundlanders might say, as their economy’s vital whitefish population has been nearly decimated by high-tech fishing technologies with which biology can’t keep up. Nobu, depicted as villainous as McDonald’s was in Super Size Me, refuses to take bluefin tuna off its menu but promises to include a footnote encouraging patrons not to eat what’s officially an endangered species. Narrated by Ted Danson, The End of the Line is a freeform splash of jaw-dropping graphs, impressively accredited talking heads and sumptuously shot portraits of natural beauty and decay, overdramatically scored to symphonic and other intense musical attacks. Practical advice follows (eat anchovies!), but the real question remains: What new cliché must we invent to replace the now inaccurate “plenty of fish in the sea”? (Sunset 5) (Aaron Hillis)
IRENE IN TIME Mumblecore avant la lettre, casually dismissed by those who place a premium on things like narrative, visual lucidity and editorial smoothness, writer/director/emotional exhibitionist Henry Jaglom trudges forth undeterred, making his self-financed, self-distributed, unapologetically personal portraits of hopeless L.A. neurotics searching for self-fulfillment. A professed “male lesbian” who has made films on the subjects of pregnancy and eating disorders, Jaglom here turns his distaff radar on the relationship between women and their fathers. His latest ingénue, Tanna Frederick, stars as a singer looking for a man she can love and admire as much as her dearly departed dad. Frederick, who played a comically desperate aspiring actress in Jaglom’s previous (and better) Hollywood Dreams, remains very much in capital-A actor mode here, though her sometimes cartoonishly big performance is counterbalanced by those of erstwhile Jaglom muse Andrea Marcovicci, who acts and sings beautifully in a couple of scenes as a mystery woman from Frederick’s past, and Victoria Tennant, who lends the film unexpected emotional ballast as Frederick’s mother. As in many of Jaglom’s more middling efforts, moments of genuine insight alternate freely with those of banal psychologizing, but even then there can be no denying that the filmmaker has an ear for a certain brand of self-absorbed discourse often overheard in restaurants and bars in the shadow of the Hollywood sign. And given the choice, I’ll take Henry’s home movies over Jonathan Demme’s any day of the week. (Sunset 5; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Scott Foundas)
MÁNCORA Largely set in Peruvian beach towns, Ricardo de Montreuil’s titillating road movie follows party kid Santi (Jason Day) on a vacation from reality after his ex–pop star father commits suicide. Tagging along are his smokin’ stepsister Ximena (Elsa Pataky), whom he hasn’t seen in ages, and her supercilious husband, Iñigo (Enrique Murciano). Half the film foreshadows incest, mixing in assorted hotties and spats along the way; the other half has yet to be written. Day has the right buzz-cut brooding-little-boy look, but he’s missing in action, not that the movie has much to say about the characters anyway. Despite dramatic pretenses, De Montreuil (My Best Friend’s Wife) has essentially made a piece of sex-and-sun tourism cinema, allowing viewers to turn off their brains and pretend they’re on holiday and in a moody, acrobatic love triangle, too. There’s no law against that, but the inelegantly edited film officially goes overboard when Iñigo and Santi visit a shaman and take some sweet, mind-detonating ayahuasca. Like the pointless flash-forward that opens the movie with an unexplained beating, the episode suggests filmmakers who have lost the plot — a sensation that the abrupt, unsatisfying ending soon confirms. (Sunset 5; Playhouse 7) (Nicolas Rapold)
THE NARROWS Tatiana Blackington’s screenplay may have been adapted from Tim McLoughlin’s 2001 novel, Heart of the Old Country, but director François A. Velle’s pulpy coming-of-ager fleetingly resembles any number of New York crime dramas, and you, too, can play along: Growing up in Bay Ridge, sensitive tough-kid Mike Manadoro (Kevin Zegers) is taken under the wing of the local Brooklyn mob boss (ahem, GoodFellas!), much to the dismay of his father (A Bronx Tale!). His loyalties are tested after he vouches for his self-destructive childhood friend (Mean Streets!), an Afghani war hero with a pregnant wife and a heroin habit. But Mike is ultimately torn between his shady duties and his artistic pursuit (Fingers!) as a photographer, taking college courses in Manhattan, where he further complicates his dramatic arc by cheating on his girlfriend with a pretty classmate (Sophia Bush), a woman his family wouldn’t approve of (A Bronx Tale again!). Serviceably enjoyable like cold pizza but little more, The Narrows is well-acted (though it could use more heavy hitters to match Vincent D’Onofrio’s charisma as Mike’s small-time bookie dad), and the post-gentrification NYC details are on the nose. Why does every car-service operator insist it’ll only take five minutes, anyway? (Mann Chinese 6) (A.H.)
GO $9.99 The stop-motion animated puppets in Tatia Rosenthal’s beguiling first feature look like clay-mated slabs of glazed meat, at once unreal and hyper-real. Which makes them perfect carriers of the off-kilter existentialism of Etgar Keret, who co-wrote the screenplay for $9.99 with Rosenthal, based on his own short stories. With Keret you never know where laughter ends and heartbreak begins, and so it is with these lost souls (voiced by Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia and other luminaries of this Israeli-Australian co-production), who keep colliding in a naturalistically evoked apartment building that could be found in any warm-climate city, whether Tel Aviv, Sydney or Los Angeles. Their gait is stiff, but they’re tormented by the full range of emotional incompleteness, from shame to lust to longing to confusion to plain old weariness with the struggle to stay afloat. There’s more fun than mawkishness, though, in the underachiever who evades his fiancée’s demands by cavorting with 2-inch-high frat boys; the suicidal (maybe) Guardian Angel (maybe) who’d rather be anywhere but here; the penthouse hottie who likes her men absolutely hairless; and the 20-something who seeks solace in a $10 life manual because his loving, single father has no time to listen. The cut-rate how-to proves more potent than you’d think, which says something wise and wonderful about the way the material world can hold out ridiculous but transcendent spiritual release. I’m not revealing how, but let’s just say that $9.99 doesn’t end like that other movie about “the pursuit of happyness,” and all the better for it. (Nuart) (Ella Taylor)
THE PROPOSAL Starring Sandra Bullock as the publishing-house boss who blackmails her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) into marrying her, lest she face deportation to Canada, this is nothing but a faint echo of its myriad predecessors, which are too numerous to name. You know every tinny beat and false note by heart, from the implausible setup to the sprint-to-the-airport finish. The Proposal, in fact, appears to have been written using a secret cache of computers stored beneath Walt Disney HQ since 1978 — code name “Pete Chiarelli,” the first-time screenwriter who receives credit for having pilfered every rom-com convention since the invention of breathing. (It was directed by Anne Fletcher, who stitched together 27 Dresses out of the leftover scraps not used here.) Or, perhaps, it’s the product of a book of MadLibs in which spaces are left blank for The Handsome Male Ingénue Specializing in Cocked Eyebrows, The Former Rom-com It-Girl on Comeback Trail Who Looks 10 Years Younger Than Her Age, and The Ex–Golden Girl as Dirty-Minded Grandmother. Already filled in: Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen as The Parents and Malin Akerman as The One Who Got Away. And there you have it: HBO instaclassic! “Here comes the bribe,” utters the poster’s tag line. Genius. Such great minds. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)
GO SEX POSITIVE First-time filmmaker Daryl Wein wasn’t even born when AIDS was first recognized by the CDC in 1981, but his documentary on Richard Berkowitz, one of the initial advocates of safe sex, does a good job of capturing (though, dizzyingly, not always with a tripod) the internecine struggles among gay activists, which played out on Manhattan public-access TV and in the pages of the New York Native during the first years of the pandemic. It helps that Wein’s subject is such a fascinating, garrulous paradox: Berkowitz, co-author with singer Michael Callen of the 1983 pamphlet How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach, was an s/m-top hustler who insisted, much to the horror of Larry Kramer and others outraged by what they considered a loaded term, that “promiscuity” contributed to the transmission of AIDS among gay men. For all his passion and commitment, Berkowitz, diagnosed with AIDS in 1995, seems to have a special talent for flaming out, losing several years to crack addiction and now living on disability checks and handouts from former clients. As one of the namesakes of NYC’s Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Callen, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1993, has reached near-saint status; Berkowitz candidly admits to battling a more ignominious legacy: “If you do a Google search on me, I’m tied in with all these lunatics.” (Sunset 5) (Melissa Anderson)
SUPERSTAR Art-house audiences who like a little Touchstone Pictures in their foreign films would do well to seek out Superstar, an Iranian twist on Hollywood comedies like The Game Plan, in which a successful but unhappy man learns important life lessons thanks to the unwelcome arrival of a precocious child he never knew he had. Arrogant film star Kurosh Zand (Shahab Hosseini) is drowning in women and debt when he encounters Raha (Fattaneh Malek-Mohammadi), a young girl who claims she’s his child through a former lover, who recently died of cancer. Kurosh initially suspects a scam but slowly begins to believe Raha, allowing her to live with him while he waits for a paternity test. Writer-director Tahmineh Milani’s light drama travels down the expected narrative paths — even its twist comes right on schedule — and delivers the anticipated platitudes about the importance of personal bonds over material possessions. But even if nothing here surprises, it should be noted that where its American counterparts would settle for coarse, kid-friendly humor and mawkish sentimentality, at least Superstar exhibits a tender, intelligent sweetness, which helps to temper the utter conventionality and more melodramatic moments. (Music Hall) (Tim Grierson)
WHATEVER WORKS Whatever Works is Woody Allen’s first New York movie after five years abroad. It’s his first in even longer to center on the Woody Allen character — an urban neurotic, here named Boris Yellnikoff and brashly played by Larry David. Toughened and (relatively) rejuvenated by David’s aggressive performance, the Allen surrogate is introduced treating his friends to a lecture on the “God racket.” Nothing especially new — Allen wrote this script 30 years ago and intended it for no less a force of nature than Zero Mostel. What gives the material weight is the curmudgeon’s derisive half-smile. Nastier than David’s character on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Boris is a cousin to insult comedian Don Rickles — a smug, self-absorbed, argumentative nudnik with unshakable faith in his listeners’ stupidity and his own “huge worldview.” Whatever Works shifts into gear when Boris finds a teenage runaway named Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood) camped out in front of his anachronistically shabby downtown digs, and grudgingly takes her in. Of course, Melodie is also a type. She’s a cheerful, optimistic, winsome Mississippi belle. They “date” (he takes her to Grant’s Tomb and Yonah Schimmel’s knishery), and, living out the Woodman’s fondest fantasy, they marry. Melodie’s parents — white-bread Jesus-praising “aborigines,” as their son-in-law characterizes them — arrive in New York, and the movie dons its jammies and goes to sleep. To drown Boris’ bitterness in a vat of Manischewitz is the aesthetic equivalent of depraved indifference. Whatever Works illustrates, even as it names, Allen’s artistic limitations. For an expanded version of this review, go to www.laweekly.com/movies. (ArcLight Hollywood; Landmark; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (J. Hoberman)
YEAR ONE Unbearably painful from shrugging start to outtakes-laden finish, Harold Ramis’ half-assed, hare-brained return to writing and directing makes Mel Brooks’ equally muddled, soporific History of the World, Part 1 look downright majestic by comparison — and comparisons are inevitable. Sixteen long years after Groundhog Day, perhaps the greatest American comedy of the 1990s, this is instead the Harold Ramis responsible for Club Paradise — the unfocused and unhinged sketch comedian for whom no laugh’s too cheap, as evidenced by scenes involving the eating of shit, the tossing of testicles and the streaming of urine all over Michael Cera’s face. Released under the Judd Apatow banner, Year One is a hollow, cynical exercise in juvenilia, and the cast of thousands look like they’d rather be anywhere other than the desert, pretending to be biblical outcasts. Jack Black, as hunter Zed, has never worked so hard for so little. Cera, as gatherer Oh, can’t even obscure his embarrassment behind the strands of a cheap and ill-fitting wig. Not one of the comedy all-stars that Ramis enlisted — among them Paul Rudd, whose cameo as Abel lasts all of 30 seconds and still runs too long; David Cross as bro-killin’ Cain; and Hank Azaria as son-sacrificing Abraham — can wring a single laugh from a screenplay that pauses for a moment to contemplate the existence of God between squeezing out sharts. Year One serves as irrefutable proof that He does not exist. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)
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