BALLS OF FURY See film feature.


There’s no degree of separation between risk-assessment executive Kevin Bacon and the gangbangers who killed his son in the first of this season’s you-toucha-my-family-I-keel-you thumbscrewers—a gory anti-revengers’ tale seemingly resurrected from the catacombs of Cannon Films. (It’s based on a novel by Brian Garfield, reportedly written to counteract the pro-vigilante slant Hollywood gave his Death Wish.) The director, Sawteur James Wan, lays the genre mechanism bare—innocents are placed in harm’s way; the hero retaliates and becomes no better than the bad guys, until the bad guys do something even more heinous—and we, with a combination of sympathy and bloodlust, respond to each new zap. Or we would, if the movie weren’t so laughable in every common-sense detail—starting with Bacon’s instant transformation from pencil pusher to demolition man. A motif of father-son eye-for-an-eye overkill and some choice talk about the futility of war from an otherwise ineffectual detective (Aisha Tyler) raise the possibility that this is some kind of au-courant post-9/11 allegory. But the only things anyone’s likely to remember, besides Bacon’s crazy-eyes act, are John Goodman’s soon-to-be-legendary turn as a bilious bug-eyed gun dealer and a hellacious back-alley/parking-garage chase shot from a careening fender-level camera. Like much of the movie, it’s as hammily dynamic as it is impossible to swallow. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley) See interview with James Wan.

When director Bryan Singer caught this movie a couple of years ago at Sundance — back when it bore the vastly superior title Home of Phobia — he was sufficiently taken with lead Sam Huntington that he cast him as Jimmy Olsen in Superman Returns. Yep, it’s been on the shelf that long. Huntington’s potential is clear, even as he’s thrust into a shopworn premise about a college freshman who pretends to be gay so that a sorority babe (Kaitlin Doubleday) will hang out with him. There are other things to like about writer-director Ryan Shiraki’s college comedy, mainly that it feels more real than most: The dorm rooms are tiny, the buildings worn out, the parties kinda lame, the clubs annoyingly P.C., and the students not quite as beautiful as they normally are in the movies. Just one problem: It isn’t particularly funny. Mocking lesbians for bad bongo-beating poetry, for instance, just ain’t fresh, interesting or even especially offensive. Casting John Goodman as a worn-out old queen is a nice touch, though. (Regent Showcase) (Luke Y. Thompson)

HALLOWEEN Rob Zombie’s Halloween isn’t quite a remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher masterpiece. The first hour,  which vividly and viciously imagines the dirt-bag childhood of an abject little psychopath named Michael Myers (the exquisitely wormy Daeg Faerch), might be considered a prequel. Yet even when it kicks in on familiar turf—Michael’s escape (slash) from the loony bin (strangle) and hunt (slaughter) for his sister Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton)—Zombie’s up to something all his own. Horrific as it is, Halloween isn’t so much a horror film as a biopic, and a superb one at that. The life and times of a fictional monster may not be as respectable a subject as a historical monster like, say, Idi Amin or Truman Capote, but Zombie’s portrait is every bit as reverent, scrupulous, and deeply felt as any Oscar-grubbing horrorshow. Note the strange circumspection, the discipline of tone, the utter lack of snark, the absolute denial of gore-for-gore’s sake. (Yes, Eli Roth, there is such a thing as “torture porn”—and you’re a dumb dirty perv.) Can you feel the love? If anything, Zombie indulges too much sympathy for the devil; his Halloween deepens Carpenter’s vision without rooting out its fear. (Citywide) (Nathan Lee). See interview with director Rob Zombie. (Citywide)

KLIMT If there’s one film that holds its place on my ever-shifting list of the best films of the last decade, it’s Raul Ruiz’s 1999 Time Regained, a brilliantly stylized visualization of the blurred borders between Proust’s life, art and social milieu. Klimt, by contrast, feels like a listless graft of similar strategies — the circular swoops and dives of a camera perpetually in motion, the action bookended by the painter’s delirious musings on his deathbed — onto an artist whose work was dismissed by many in his day as oversexed, and by some today as eye candy. Ruiz sets his rehab of Klimt’s ambiguous reputation in the artist’s hometown of fin-de-siècle Vienna (bourgeois, philistine) and Paris (rad, liberating), where, as Marx so beautifully put it, “all that is solid melts into air.” John Malkovich is his usual wry and slightly ponderous self as Klimt, whose platonic and carnal relationships with dozens of women (primarily the French dancer Lea de Castro, played by the lovely but lightly talented Saffron Burrows) juiced his peacock-gorgeous canvases. Stephen Dillane is sly and witty as the oppressively paternal figure who shadows Klimt through his movie. But Ruiz is so intent on harnessing the painter to his own — here, rather arid — relativism that he never manages to convey the unfettered eros that brings crowds flocking to exhibitions of Klimt’s work, even as critics hold their noses. (Nu Wilshire; One Colorado) (Ella Taylor)

The filmmakers behind this mainstream Spanish-language heist comedy are positioning the movie as an authentic Latin reimagining of a familiar Hollywood genre, but, really, they’re just ripping off Ocean’s Eleven. In the George Clooney and Brad Pitt roles, Alejandro (Fernando Colunga) and Emilio (Miguel Varoni) are career thieves plotting to con Valdez (Saúl Lisazo), a crooked L.A. millionaire scamming immigrants with his bogus cure-all infomercial products. Ladrón’s one clever idea is that the heroes’ crack team consists of average Latino day laborers who, because they are largely ignored by their upper-class employers, are the perfect anonymous soldiers to carry out the risky caper. Director Joe Menendez and writer José Angel Henrickson also take a few stabs at ridiculing the obscene affluence that is the centerpiece of the Ocean films, but they quickly lose their nerve, settling instead for manipulatively crowd-pleasing odes to the simple decency of hard-working immigrants. Ladrón’s earnest tone works against the film’s hoped-for irreverent stance, and Menendez’s slack pacing undercuts the project’s attempt to offer a viable alternative to Hollywood fare. For a movie whose bad guy bamboozles unsuspecting Latinos with false promises, Ladrón could be cited for precisely the same offense. (Citywide) (Tim Grierson)

    LIVE-IN MAID Beba (Norma Aleandro) is a middle-aged woman-child clinging to the shards of her fortune as the Argentine economy falls apart. Even after she’s forced to take a job selling cosmetics door-to-door (there are some deliciously degrading scenes of her glopping beauty cream onto prospective buyers’ arms), she won’t relinquish her vast, chilly apartment — or her maddeningly competent maid, Dora (Norma Argentina), who hasn’t been paid in seven months. As the weeks creep by and Beba’s financial situation becomes more desperate, her relationship with Dora changes; at times it is sisterly, at times mother-daughterly, at times loverly. Beba and Dora never stop dancing around each other in an intricate, painful pas de deux. The more orders Beba gives, the less she is in charge. Director Jorge Gaggero wisely confines almost all of the action to Beba’s hermetic apartment, where the surfaces are kept polished to a high sheen, and pays deep attention to the grunts, wrinkles and sighs of daily life; the result is a film of startling insight and grace. Aleandro, a star in Argentina, is a marvel of a ditz, and Argentina, a first-time actress, draws on a lifetime of experience as a maid for her portrait of Dora. (The Landmark) (Julia Wallace)

{mosimage} PICK  MANDA BALA One way or another, crooks and paranoids rule in Brazil, according to a cocky new documentary by Jason Kohn, a young New Yorker of South American descent whose visual panache suggests he can look forward at best to a glittering career making Hollywood thrillers, at worst to a lucrative franchise in television commercials. In fact, Kohn is a disciple of Errol Morris, and Manda Bala is less a sober overview of the deep-rooted culture of corruption in capital-rich São Paulo than an ingenious essay on the way Brazil’s sub rosa economy works itself into a new class war whose weapons are as likely to be helicopters and bulletproof cars for the rich as they are to be guns and videotape for the poor. Kohn’s genius for access is astonishing: He worms his way into a frog farm through which a crooked senator launders millions, to the favela that serves as HQ for kidnappers, to the office of a smug plastic surgeon who reattaches the ears of kidnap victims, to the rooftop parking lot of a businessman who’s about to get a tracker microchip implanted under his skin so that the police can find him if — or, more likely, when — he’s carried off by the city’s masked guerrillas. Manda Bala’s jaunty score and impish editing will likely drive documentary purists — and many Brazilians who live peaceful lives, if they ever get to see this banned film — right up the wall, and there’s certainly something queasy-making about Kohn’s open enjoyment of the madness of Brazil’s political economy, whose fallout is more the stuff of tragedy than of satire. But there’s no denying the sharpness of his insights into a society that hasn’t so much collapsed as reconstituted itself around venality, profiteering and rage. (Royal; Playhouse 7) (Ella Taylor)


THE NINES Screenwriter John August (Go, Charlie’s Angels) wrote and directed this solipsistic, sub–Charlie Kaufman head trip about a washed-up cop-show actor confined to house arrest, a gay TV writer battling the network over his latest pilot, and a successful video-game designer whose family holiday turns sinister after his car breaks down in the woods. The catch is that all three characters are played by Ryan Reynolds and are versions or fragments of the same person. There’s no fixed reality per se, but as each successive storyline plays out, it becomes clear that August is trying to show us the inner workings of a writer’s mind, and how a writer’s life competes with and influences those of his fictional creations. It’s hardly a novel idea, but at least when Kaufman, David Lynch or Michel Gondry invites us on a tour of the creative subconscious, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Plunging into August’s gray matter is more like a season in vacation hell. The film’s first section, in which Reynolds’ vain sex symbol hooks up with his married neighbor (Hope Davis), plays like outtakes from a low-rent porno; the middle section suggests a wan retread of Jake Kasdan’s recent The TV Set. And the grand finale — presumably the pilot that the writer has been writing — quickly devolves into must-not-see TV. In each segment, Reynolds (who gives the movie his all but gets little in return) finds himself haunted in some way by the titular numeral — a feeling likely to be shared by anyone who spends about that many dollars on a ticket. (Nuart) (Scott Foundas)


PRIVATE PROPERTY See film feature.

SELF-MEDICATED The 24-year-old writer-director Monty Lapica, whose bony, angular face makes him look a good decade older than that, takes an ill-advised stab at playing the 17-year-old version of himself in this autobiographical drama about a Las Vegas high schooler with a superhigh IQ, a grade-A anger-management problem and a varsity-level alcohol addiction. A dead father looms large, as does a dissolute, pill-popping mom (Diane Venora, method-acting into next week) who begs God to save her son from his reckless ways. As it happens, Self-Medicated does concern an intervention — albeit not a divine one — in which Lapica (here called Andrew) is interred in the kind of rehab center that makes San Quentin look like Club Med; cue tough-love counseling sessions, trips to the disciplinary “standing room,” and the inevitable escape attempt. As director, Lapica labors to affect a kind of stark, airless “realism,” yet long before Andrew’s eleventh-hour encounter with a saintly, homily-spouting homeless man, Self-Medicated reveals itself as a uniquely narcissistic fantasy about the brilliant, tough, misunderstood kid with a heart of gold who finally figures out how to get his shit together: Good Will Hunting with a heaping side of Capracorn. (Monica 4-Plex) (Scott Foundas)

SUMMERCAMP! For fans of cute-kid docs like Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom, Summercamp!, which follows a group of Wisconsin nature-campers over the course of three weeks, should be the perfect summer movie. Unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever spent an interminable afternoon with a 7-year-old who wants to show off her Beanie Baby collection knows, kids are sort of . . . boring. Sure, they say the darnedest things, but they’re also tremendously entertained by peeling blades of grass and giving each other wedgies. The campers here are a pretty uniform group (read: white), and are, as they should be, more interested in playing than playing to the cameras. Co-directors Brad Beesley and Sarah Price make the mistake of jumping so rapidly from cabin to cabin that we have little opportunity to get to know the most interesting kids, including a chickadee-obsessed girl mourning for her dead father. The counselors, meanwhile, seem almost creepily clueless — “It’s just sand,” one of them tells a distraught boy after his castle falls apart. Although it’s hard to be too churlish about such a goodhearted film, Summercamp! manages to make watching kids have fun surprisingly tedious. (Grande 4-Plex) (Julia Wallace)

WAR What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Offering neither the enjoyably preposterous auto-heroics of the Transporter movies nor the lithe, legible athleticism of even second-tier Hong Kong thrillers, the title-card matchup of just-below-A-list-stateside action heroes Jet Li and Jason Statham is pure straight-to-video rope-a-dope. The rip-off starts with the title: The battle, alas, is not between the stars — who have maybe three scenes together — but between rival triad and yakuza clans in San Francisco, set at each other’s throats Yojimbo-style by Li’s calculating assassin. Statham plays the lawman who lost his partner to the mysterious pro, which means This Time It’s Personal; to show his anguish, he chews a toothpick and keeps his stubble at regulation height for grieving. The stars don’t face off until the finish, and given director Philip G. Atwell’s overall ineptitude — attention-deficit editing, indifference to acting, lighting that seems to have been purchased cut-rate from a morgue — the big fight is less a Thrilla in Manila than Disarray by the Bay. Is this lemon the only joint star vehicle Li and Statham could find? In the immortal words of Edwin Starr: good God, y’all. (Citywide) (Jim Ridley)

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