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Movie Reviews: The Happening, Poultrygeist, Savage Grace

The Happening

Courtesy Twentieth Century FoxThe Happening

GO  THE ANIMATION SHOW 4 In its fourth year, this traveling festival of short animated films is now minus one of its original curators — stick-figure wizard Don Hertzfeldt has declared his “retirement,” though he has urged fans to keep supporting the show. Perhaps as a direct result of leaving Mike Judge in sole control, the program this year is almost entirely comedic in nature — Hertzfeldt had more of an existential side — with the only major exception being the Swiss director Georges Schwizgebel’s “Jeu,” an M.C. Escher-like collage of interlocking images that pull out to reveal larger patterns. Titles like “Angry Unpaid Hooker” and “Yompi the Crotch-Biting Sloup” speak for themselves, and will likely elicit their fair share of “huh-huhs.” Fortunately, we also get more elaborate slapstick in Smith & Foulkes’ “This Way Up,” in which a pair of unlucky undertakers chase after a coffin that keeps eluding them by quirks of fate and timing. Soccer-playing insects, voodoo idols, crazy Russian bunnies driving cars, and a polar bear in love with a penguin are among the other highlights; only Trevor Jimenez’ “Key Lime Pie,” a film noir spoof about dessert addiction, doesn’t quite work as a story, though the animation is still cool. Bill Plympton also has a new short, and if that doesn’t excite you, you haven’t been paying attention. Go watch more cartoons. (Nuart) (Luke Y. Thompson)

Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

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The Happening

 

GO  THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME The title will be unfamiliar to most Americans; not so in Japan. The source is a sci-fi novel that’s been adapted every decade since its 1967 debut: as a film, a TV series and now, retooled into a semi-sequel, as an animated feature. Makoto (voiced by Riisa Naka), an indifferent high-school student, one day discovers that she’s inexplicably gained the ability to jump out of time — this involves literal jumping, and a litany of pratfalls. She uses the gift to mostly trivial ends (retaking a quiz, beating her little sister to a pudding cup), and also to escape the number of life-or-death situations that evidently imperil a normal teenager’s schedule. The Western world can be divided between those who are predisposed to dig anime and those who split at the first sight of spiky orange hair. I am not among the former. That said, there’s real craftsmanship in how Girl sustains its sense of summer quietude and sun-soaked haziness through a few carefully reprised motifs: three-cornered games of catch, mountainous cloud formations, classroom still-lifes. It’s basically the equivalent of a sensitively wrought read from the Young Adult shelf, and there’s naught wrong with that. (ImaginAsian Center) (Nick Pinkerton)

 

THE HAPPENING What a bunch of nonsense — effective nonsense, chilling nonsense, occasionally wrenching nonsense, but nonsense nonetheless. This is what happens when M. Night Shyamalan tries to play both John Carpenter (bloody) and Stanley Kubrick (cold-blooded) while writing and directing what the literalist will either dismiss or embrace as the horror-film extension of An Inconvenient Truth, depending upon who the literalist thinks is responsible for, ya know, killing the planet. No spoilers here, because there’s nothing to give away — not even the alleged cause of the toxin that causes folks in the Northeast to go loopy before killing themselves with whatever’s handy (a cop’s gun, a shard of glass, a sidewalk 40 stories down ... a rototiller, ick). One minute folks are enjoying themselves in Central Park, the next, they’re stabbing and shooting themselves for the following, oh, 90 minutes, give or take. (The film’s first 10 minutes are, down to the last second, unrelentingly horrific.) Mark Wahlberg, as a Philly science teacher obsessed with the sudden decline in the bee population, and Zooey Deschanel, as his uninterested missus, plod through the Pennsylvania countryside in search of a safe haven, only they can’t find one; the toxin’s everywhere. But, if nothing else, a couple experiencing a few hiccups — she’s contemplating an affair with the voice of Shyamalan, making one of his more clever cameos — finds it easier to talk shit out when death is imminent. Which is a decent point, even if you have to avoid the piles of corpses on your way to therapy. (Citywide) (Robert Wilonsky)

 

MEET BILL Is Meet Bill the worst movie ever? Probably not, but it’s certainly incoherent enough to give Gigli a run for its money. It tries hard to mimic the arch tone of the best suburban tragicomedies (American Beauty, et al.), but a surfeit of stock characters, double-wide plot holes and heavy-handed symbolism ruins the effect. Aaron Eckhart plays Bill, a mild-mannered mensch whose impossibly shrewish wife (Elizabeth Banks) is cheating on him, unrepentantly. When a hidden camera catches wife and lover in flagrante delicto, she kicks poor Bill out of the house, whereupon he enlists the aid of a lingerie saleswoman (Jessica Alba) and a precocious high-schooler (Logan Lerman) in an effort to win her back. Complicating matters is the fact that Bill works at his father-in-law’s bank, even though he secretly plans to open a doughnut franchise (which he even more secretly doesn’t want). First-time directors Bernie Goldmann and Melisa Wallack have no control of their material, not to mention their actors: Both Banks and Alba give off all the flat, cookie-cutter-sexy charisma of Victoria’s Secret print-ad models, while the usually charming Eckhart is a mess. Who encouraged him to unleash an endless parade of bizarre mannerisms, slumping his shoulders and twitching his face maniacally? It’s as if the weight of carrying this leaden film induced Tourette’s. (One Colorado) (Julia Wallace)

 

 POULTRYGEIST: NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD A blend of 11 herbs and spices accounts for the secret recipe for Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken. Less furtive and more bounteous are the ingredients necessary for the standard Troma production, but Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead is made from a revamped formula that boisterously mixes the obligatory old (breast-jiggling, lesbianism, exploding pus bubbles) with the snarky new (pomo musical numbers, equal-opportunity racism, a reference to Jenna Jameson). Opening with the best trying-to-unfasten-a-bra and zombie-finger-as-butt-plug gags in movie history, which are closely followed by the most tasteless fisting scene since William Friedkin’s Cruising, Poultrygeist chronicles what happens when a fried-chicken shack goes up on a Native American burial ground. Because she doth protest too much, Wendy (Kate Graham) is branded a Sappho B. Anthony, and when a Muslim woman named Humus (Rose Ghavami) conveys shock, it’s with the good ole “Oh, Shiite!” A predictably hit-and-miss yuk fest, the film calls it a satirical day after naming most characters after fast-food restaurants (Arbie, Carl Jr., Paco Bell), then redundantly coasts on a series of scatological explosions and phallo- and anal-centric invasions. The Romero zombie fest is a major point of reference, but given the plethora of harrumphing reaction shots and cameos by D-listers like Ron Jeremy and the South Park boys, so is Scooby Doo. (Sunset 5) (Ed Gonzalez)

 

QUID PRO QUO For the first half-hour, Quid Pro Quo flirts with the kind of sexual perversity that fueled Crash, David Cronenberg’s lurid 1996 film about a subculture of autoerotics. But the opening scenes prove little more than a tease, for there is nothing fetishistic — much less metaphorical — about the case of Isaac Knott (Nick Stahl), a public-radio reporter who was 8 years old when a car crash killed his parents and left him a paraplegic. An anonymous tip leads Isaac to a clandestine fraternity of “wannabe amputees” — physically intact individuals who yearn to be disabled. His guide into this strange universe is Fiona (Vera Farmiga), a mysterious beauty — and soon lover — who craves not dismemberment but physical paralysis. Farmiga is captivating, Stahl less so — although a bigger problem is writer-director Carlos Brooks’ script, which sets up one story, then shifts gears into something more personal and psychologically specific. That’s normally a plus, deepening the viewer’s sense of involvement, but the transition here is bumpy and, ultimately, unconvincing. (The Landmark; Playhouse 7) (Jean Oppenheimer)

 

SAVAGE GRACE Designed more for train-wreck gawkery than psychological illumination, Tom Kalin’s garish melodrama applies icehouse style to hothouse material: the 1972 murder of socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland, former wife of the heir to the Bakelite fortune, by the grown son she’d taken to fucking to cure his homosexuality. From the life-preserver-clinging of his culture-vulture mom (Julianne Moore) to the contempt of his aloof playboy dad (Stephen Dillane), young Antony Baekeland was molded from birth into a sexually confused, neurotic mama’s boy (played as an adult by Eddie Redmayne). His standing as his mother’s de facto husband led inevitably to incest, violence and a grimly redundant self-suffocation; in Kalin and screenwriter Howard A. Rodman’s hands his downfall becomes a glossy travelogue with stops in Paris, Majorca and London (where a fateful kitchen knife awaits). This marks Kalin’s first feature in the 15 years since his queer-cinema landmark Swoon, a grave, provocative retelling of the Leopold and Loeb case. This, by contrast, is a tawdry nighttime soap that marvels without insight at its characters’ despicable behavior: It squanders a major performance by Moore, who rips into Barbara’s confrontational mania, maternal perversity and all-consuming need with nail-clawing fury and no small amount of malicious humor — as when she tries to quiet her increasingly agitated son/hand-job recipient with a sharp “inside voice!” (The Landmark; Playhouse 7; Sunset 5; Town Center 5) (Jim Ridley)

 

GO  TIMES AND WINDS Times and Winds is a film bewitched by the rhythms of everyday life in a remote Turkish village. Director Reha Erdem sees pain and love the same way he does the moon and sun — as constant, illuminating forces — and his camera pushes forward as if on an axis, peering at family and communal experience through the impressionable eyes of three preadolescents. Ömer (Özkan Özen) prays for the death of his cruel imam father, inviting the bitter wind into the man’s bedroom at night and contemplating the effects of a scorpion’s sting on the adult body; Yakup (Ali Bey Kayali), enchanted by his teacher’s beauty, refuses to clean the woman’s blood from his thumb after he pulls a splinter from her foot; and Yildiz (Elit Iscan), resentful of her mother and blinded by the adoration of her father, weeps when she catches her parents having sex. The actors are prone to expressionless, and Arvo Pärt’s score bears the brunt of the story’s thematic heavy lifting, preciously rhyming growing pains to the sway of the seasons. But Erdem’s vignettes can be trenchant, as in the amusing scenes of boys and girls responding differently to animals bumping uglies — evocations of how society determines sexual roles at an early age. (Music Hall) (Ed Gonzalez)