Movie Reviews: Twilight, Dostana, Eden
GO DOSTANA Carefully established as womanizing wolves trolling Miami, male nurse Sameer (Abhishek Bachchan) and photographer Kunal (John Abraham) soon find themselves playing gay in order to snag sublets in the beachfront condo owned by Neha (Priyanka Chopra), with whom they bond instantly to form a trio of best pals, and in due course fall in love. Squinted at fearfully from a distance, Tarun Mansukhani’s Dostana (Friendship) looks like a Bollywood rehash of I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. But as it’s been done, with this ingratiating cast, a retro peach-and-turquoise color scheme that makes every shot look like a 1986 fashion layout, and a brace of insanely catchy Vishal Dadlani dance numbers, the movie isn’t half bad. The inevitable baggage that comes with the premise — the displays of exaggerated swishing whenever prying relatives or immigration officials turn up; the heartache that ensues when the two men realize they are romantic rivals; the earnest dialogue in the final act about the price of basing friendship on a lie — is set aside for a remarkably long time. What we get, by and large, is exactly what the three smiling faces on the poster lead us to expect: a pure star vehicle, gliding along on charm and timing — exactly the sort of comfort cinema Hollywood now seems incapable of making. One irony is that the lingering prudishness of Indian pop cinema may be what keeps the fun from turning grossly offensive: One sight gag about recoiling from biting into a hot dog is about as obnoxious as it gets. And in a film culture where even heterosexual smooching is still often coyly concealed, here we get a gay kiss in a mainstream commercial movie that is no more or less explicit than the standard hetero variety. Isn’t equality what it’s all about? (Fallbrook 7; Naz 8) (David Chute)
GO THE DUKES Even if you don’t know the name, you’ll recognize Robert Davi’s slightly corroded handsomeness and shiny, bottomless eyes. The ubiquitous Astoria-born character actor directs himself as the front man of a group of golden-oldie doo-woppers, men who’ve seen better paychecks, shopping for work in the L.A. nostalgia circuit. Peter Bogdanovich is the group’s manager, his full-body sag betraying a yellowed Rolodex. On a shoestring, the Dukes attempt to handle ex-wives, diabetes and dentists’ bills, while collectively trying to ignore a smarting sense of middle-aged disappointment. Davi, who’s done more journeyman jobs than most, opines: “Hollywood is limbo — you wait there, and then your soul goes to Santa Monica.” Getting some lithe sequence shots out of his camera crew, this first-time director shows a knack for bending scenes off in the middle and twisting them into pleasingly unexpected shapes. The Dukes complains a bit under its heavy freight of low-payoff exposition and brings the same business back for unnecessary encores (sideman Chazz Palminteri’s chubby-chasing worked in wherever). How, though, to resent a work of such deliberate inconsequence? Even the boys’ desperate foray into amateur breaking-and-entering isn’t written toward a big heist climax but merely another soft tapering off, a stoic “that’s life” shrug, better luck tomorrow, moving on. (AMC Burbank; Town Center 5) (Nick Pinkerton)
GO EDEN This portrait of an imploding marriage is remarkable for every reason that counts in a good film: Its emotions are passionate and immediate, yet from frame one we are trusted to understand, free of manipulation, exactly what this husband and wife of 10 years are suffering and thinking. The suspense grows out of their blindness to each other. Billy (Aidan Kelly) is a telephone lineman in the Irish countryside, who, rather than face his wife, prefers to vanish into a pub after work and dote on fond memories of an heroic deed from his youth. Breda (The Magdalene Sisters’ Eileen Walsh) suffers his absences painfully, along with their two kids, and retreats into indolent melancholy, illuminated by a most intense and elaborate sexual fantasy. Written by Eugene O’Brien and directed by Declan Recks, Eden constitutes cinema of a very high order: The use of music is discreet and generally “sourced” by the settings, while the cinematography (by Owen McPolin) is designed to suggest what Billy and Breda emphasize to themselves when they look at the world and each other. Kelly may have the thankless role of the ungrateful husband, especially in relation to the heart-piercing Walsh, but he puts us in constant contact with the suffering being behind his eyes. As Breda gives herself a radiant makeover and Billy fights his compulsive lust for a beautiful teenager, we nonetheless feel these two dreamers’ hopes for each other, even as he risks disgracing himself, and she risks detonating their bond altogether. (Nuart) (F.X. Feeney)
I CAN’T THINK STRAIGHT Fall asleep flipping channels between Oxygen, Here! and Lifetime, and you’re likely to find Shamim Sarif’s slickly innocuous lesbian romance now showing on your eyelids. (“Slick” isn’t the half of it — every image seems to have been Scotchgarded.) On neutral ground in London, Jordanian bride-to-be Tala (Lisa Ray) locks almond eyes with her guy pal’s reserved British-Indian girlfriend, Leyla (Sheetal Sheth); after some smoldering glances and getting-to-know-you dirty dancing, the women wind up in a damnably PG-13 clinch of peekaboo midriffs and daringly bared shoulders. All that remains is for the lovers to break off their hetero relationships (glossed over in the most zipless way imaginable) and break the news to their families (the dads are fountains of fatherly tenderness; the moms wail), save for some third-act complications scarcely more troubling than the ones that delay Zack and Miri’s hookup. The premise gives novelist turned filmmaker Sarif (who scripted with Kelly Moss) a boiling stew of cultural conflicts concerning Muslims, Hindus and second-generation Westerners, but the movie addresses them by combining the blandest elements of assimilation drama and coming-out comedy into mildly spicy fluff. In a glamorous cast that might’ve been sculpted from fondant, however, Ray and Sheth are as appealing romantically as they are visually. (Sunset 5) (Jim Ridley)
GO TOOTS Toots Shor, self-described “saloon keeper” and proprietor of the eponymous Midtown bar that once was the watering hole of choice for New York’s native and visiting celebrities, is the subject of this fond biographical doc by granddaughter Kristi Jacobson. Copious clips of Shor on vintage interview shows — This Is Your Life, Person to Person — help to illustrate his rise from a street-fighting Jew holding his own in Italian South Philly to the bon vivant public face of postwar New York nightlife (a transition likely made with help from mob contacts established during hulking Toots’ time as a nightclub bouncer). Toots paces itself well enough not to wear thin the charms of its brusque, gargoyle-grinning subject, though it falls prey to familiar historical-documentary banalities, telescoping entire decades into peppy montage and lubricating everything with anonymously “brassy” jazz. The film is most enamored, naturally, with the era of its subject’s greatest influence, the ’50s; one’s reaction to Toots is therefore largely determined by one’s taste for Madison Avenue back slapping, broiled steaks, alcoholic journalists and self-amused “You had to be there” celebrity prankishness, all lovingly recalled by a litany of gargle-voiced sportswriters and Gay Talese, who hogs the best one-liners. (Downtown Independent) (Nick Pinkerton)
TWILIGHT Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular novel, Twilight — the first in a four-book series about a 17-year-old girl who falls in love with the hunky vampire who sits next to her in biology class — bored me silly, but that’s clearly a minority opinion. In the novel, Bella and her cold-to-the-touch lothario, Edward, talk and talk and talk. For the beautifully photographed (by cinematographer Elliot Davis) film version, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (bless her) has pared the couple’s blather to the essentials, as when Edward (Robert Pattinson) says to Bella (Kristen Stewart), “You’re my own personal brand of heroin.” Poor girl. How could she not succumb? Actually, Bella’s in love/lust the moment she walks into her new Pacific Northwest high school and sees Edward, who shuns her, and then loves her obsessively. Eventually, he introduces her to his progressive vampire family — they eat wild animals, not people — and invites her for a game of bloodsucker baseball, where they encounter a vampire thug (Cam Gigandet), who begins stalking Bella. Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown) has drawn strong, star-making performances from her two leads, but in the end, she’s clearly no more interested in vampires than Meyer herself. In the 17-million-copy land of Twilight, the calling card isn’t blood and fangs but the exquisite, shimmering quiver of unconsummated first love. By that measure, the movie version gives really good swoon. (Citywide) (Chuck Wilson)
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