As promised: Absolutely Epic Weekend Picks Post

March 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm 6 comments

Before the Fall

Before the Fall There’s a surreal conceptual miscalculation in this Spanish thriller, and that surreal conceptual miscalculation is this: it’s the apocalypse and there’s a serial killer on the loose. Yes, a meteorite is due to destroy the planet in 72 hours, and after indulging a bit in the kind of widespread panic and rapid societal decay you see in Children of Men and Blindness, director-cowriter F. Javier Gutierrez apparently just got bored and threw in a dude out to pick off a couple more bodies before End Times. Gutierrez works up such a hypberolic directorial lather that I assumed he was just auditioning to do the next Wes Craven remake. I believe The People Under the Stairs is free. Turns out joke’s on me: Craven is remaking this very film. C- Sat., March 28, 4:3pm, Prince Music Theater and Sun., March 29, 9:30pm, The Bridge.

GS Wonderland If not quite the strangest fad to take over Japan then strange still, the late-‘60s trend towards Beatles-derived, identically dressed theme Group Sound bands is the focus of this wacky time capsule comedy. Director Ryuichi Honda takes a purely comedic approach, and the first half is a spirited and inventive (albeit a little easy) romp about a quartet assembled near-Monkees-style by a manager so crass he passes off a girl as a boy, a lie he even passes off on the other band members. There’s a ton of camp though realistic detail: in the best scene a group of execs try to find a new GS gimmick and discover that everything’s been done, even a band where all the guys wear skirts. (“God, the GS world is weird,” remarks one.) Alas, Honda can’t keep the invention up and the second half is a steady descent into seriousness. Fun while it lasts, though. B- Sun., March 29, 9:30pm, Ritz East.

Herb and Dorothy Documentaries that are really nothing more than elongated special interest stories tend to leave me cold, and Megumi Sasaki’s profile of longtime art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel definitely falls into that category. It’s a not-particularly-deep look at two staples of the New York art scene who are notable chiefly for being mildly unusual: two normal-looking plebians who have amassed, in their many decades, and strictly on their own dime, 4782 pieces of conceptual and minimalist art. That’s a lot, isn’t it? That reaction is basically the extent of Sasaki’s focus. And yet Herb and Dorothy is still a terrific watch, mostly because the angle from which it illuminates its milieu rarely gets covered, namely, those who admire art but don’t make it themselves — an oft-ignored but no less important part of the artistic process. It’s refreshing to see a film about modern art that doesn’t feel compelled to tiresomely explain its “significance,” though Sasaki does score a killer quote from one talking head, who says, “All good art is a dialogue between the object that’s there and the viewer.” The Vogels, along with Sasaki, will be at the Saturday show. B Sat., March 28, 4:45pm, Ritz East and Sun., March 29, 12pm, Ritz East.

Hunger Already near-legendary, this portrait of the last months of IRA martyr Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) from Steve McQueen (no, not that one) chucks context to focus on the tactile. Sands and co.’s escalating, ultimately fatal protests become unbearably physical: The beatings feel 3-D while you can all but smell the feces on the wall during the “dirty protest.” McQueen fumbles in the third and final hunger strike section, succumbing to silliness like idyllic flashbacks and bird symbolism. But his attention-getting gambles usually pay off, notably during a 17-minute unbroken static shot that relishes in Fassbender and Liam Cunningham (as a priest trying to dissuade him) kicking actorly ass. B+ Sat., March 28, 12:15pm and Sun., March 29, 7:15pm, both Prince Music Theater.

I Sell the Dead Dominic Monaghan (LOTR, Lost) and indie horror maven/Jack Nicholson lookalike Larry Fessenden (Habit, The Last Winter) play 18th century graverobbers. They rub shoulders with the undead, aliens and Angus Scrimm. Ron Perlman is a monk. Sometimes it’s just this easy. B Fri., March 27, 9:45pm, Ritz East (Sold Out!).

It’s Not Me I Swear! The darker and funnier close cousin to Phoebe in Wonderland, French-Canuck Philippe Falardeau’s adaptation of Bruno Hébert’s beloved books offers up a far more dangerous unhinged child: Léon (Antoine L’Écuyer), a young suburban Montrealite who’s already set fire to his parents’ bed before harried Mom destroys him by hightailing it to Greece. In its literary incarnation L’Écuyer’s character is schizophrenic, whereas here he’s yet to be diagnosed. A bit questionable, that, but there’s no mistake that there’s something far worse affecting him than mere sadness, and Falardeau sticks very close to his side, somehow keeping things funny even when it plunges into absolute darkness. B Sat., March 28, 7:3pm, The Bridge and Sun.,  March 29, 4:30pm, Ritz 5.

Kisses This Irish kiddie saga lost me almost immediately, when the lead boy (Shane Curry) is shown to be sensitive and fragile by being asthmatic. Is director Lance Daly not aware that’s a stereotypical screenwriter shortcut? Things don’t get any better from there, with Curry and girl-next-door Kelly O’Neill running away from their asshole parents and miserable outside-Dublin surroundings, shown in stark B&W (video), to muck about Dublin, shown in color. Any claims as that Daly’s paying homage to the kitchen sink dramas, either of the ‘60s or of Mike Leigh, are dashed long before a car chase featuring Curry using the rollers on the heels of his sneakers. Oi. C Sat., March 28, 2:30pm, Ritz East.

Lake Tahoe Back when Mexican directors Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alejandro González Iñárittu (Babel) were dubbed “The Three Amigos,” some of us wondered if they couldn’t swap the latter for Fernando Eimbcke, whose Duck Season was a Jarmusch-y treat with some unexpected emotional heft. (Now I wouldn’t mind swapping out del Toro, too, and putting in Gerardo Naranjo, whose excellent I’m Going to Explode plays the fest next weekend.) Eimbcke’s follow-up descends even further into the deadpan static long take ether, with Season’s Diego Catano as a teen who meets new, eccentric characters in his town as he struggles to get his crashed Nissan fixed. For awhile Tahoe seems like a non-starter – a series of one-note grotesques (including a young mechanic really into kung fu) with nowhere to go. But like Season it sneaks up on you, delivering a leftfield, and curiously unplacable dose of weird sadness. This time, however, the melancholy feels piped in, as if out of panic. But maybe a second viewing smooths it all out. B- Fri, March 27, 7:15pm, The Bridge; Sun., March 29, 12pm, Ritz 5.

Mommy is at the Hairdresser’s It’s almost not fair that Léa Pool’s drama is in the same festival as It’s Not Me I Swear! (see above). Both involve mommies leaving their families, both feature devastated kids who act out, both have crappy fathers struggling to be less crappy, both are set in the French-speaking part of Canada during the ‘60s. And yet Swear is infintely superior and singular, while Mommy is pure bland. On the evidence of this and her lesbian drama Lost and Delirious, Pool’s shtick is banality done with conviction. But it’s still banality, and though there’s a smattering of well-observed moments, one can’t help wish for some oomph. Luckily, its funnier, smarter doppelganger is playing almost next door. C Fri., March 27, 7pm, Ritz 5; Sat., March 28, 2:30pm, Ritz 5; and Sun., March 29, 5pm, The Bridge.

Not Quite Hollywood No shock that Quentin Tarantino is all over this history of “Ozploitation” — the sex films, road movies and demented horror films that thrived throughout the ’70s and ’80s (and paved the way for respectable fare like Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli). Luckily the director’s hyperbolic ravings are upstaged by the aging filmmakers themselves, who remain an ornery, accusatory lot, railing against the critics who despised them and, more often, each other. Though shallow — the issue of Americans like Jamie Lee Curtis being shipped into Australia, thus taking away jobs from Aussie actors, is raised then ignored — Not Quite is as trashily entertaining as its copious crazy clips, among the most unexpectedly drool-worthy being Howling 3, which relocated the franchise to the Down Under and includes such sights as a ballerina turning into a werewolf mid-pirouette. Bring a notebook and hit Netflix after. B Sat., March 28, 10pm, The Bridge and Sun., March 29, 9:30pm, Ritz 5.

Number One With a Bullet Scattershot when it would require better aim, Jim Dziura’s doc takes on violence in hip hop, covering everything from rappers who’ve been shot — including The Last Mr. Bigg, who memorably put a $100,000 diamond in his glass eye — to a Temple University Hospital Trauma Unit doctor who quotes Black Star. Director Jim Dzuria tries to deflect thoughtless blame-gaming, putting lie to the claim that gangsta rap birthed violence, when it was responding to the violence that was already there. But elsewhere he does some blaming himself, turning on the old, white guy record companies that profited off N.W.A. and etc., then on gun-loving rednecks, then whomever else. But Dzuria tries to survey the subject rather than solve it, making the subject more of a healthy debate than an easy solution. B Sun., March 29, 9:30pm, Prince Music Theater.

One Day You’ll Understand Israeli director Amos Gitai — whose 2005 film Free Zone opened with a ten-minute long take of Natalie Portman in an epic crying jag — heads to France and a kickass French cast to make one of his nakedly didactic non-dramas. Perhaps the relocation has done something to him because this one’s almost a drama. Arnaud Despelchin regular Hippolyte Girardot plays a wealthy middle aged man who discovers his ancestors may (or may not) have cooperated with the Nazis during the French Occupation. Is that the source of his wealth? Title aside, Girardot never knows and Gitai isn’t so much interested in plumming his anguish as banging out hypnotic tracking shots that try to capture the intangible. He almost succeeds, in particular because of the presence of Emmanuelle Devos, Dominique Blanc and Jeanne Moreau, who it must be said looks really, really fucking old. B- Sat., March 28, 7pm, Ritz East and Sun., March 29, 12:15pm, Ritz East.

Pressure Cooker A favorite, easy trend among documentarians is finding some loudmouth firecracker onto which to glom. This doc on the culinary program at Northeast Philly’s Frankford High School appears to have found its own in Wilma Stephenson, the program’s stern, gabby and ill-tempered instructor who swears that if you can pass her class you can pass life. Yikes! But not so fast: it becomes quickly apparent that Stephenson isn’t an Anna Wintour devil but in fact a good and decent and deeply caring person, who genuinely engages with her young charges and, despite possessing a short fuse, pushes them in the most constructive way possible. So hooray! But while Pressure Cooker is heartwarming, it’s almost, in a sense, too feel-good, too lacking in drama. The kids in Stephenson’s class are all overcoming one odd or another, and they all try their damndest and they all — or at least the handful the film hews close to — succeed. So that’s nice. But I’m not entirely sure why it needs to be watched. B- Sat., March 28, 6:30pm, Prince Music Theater and Sun., March 29, 4:45pm, Ritz East.

Revanche Götz Spielmann’s intensely introspective drama lost the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar a couple weeks back; let’s just say that winner Departures better be the best movie ever. Johannes Krisch leads an incredible small cast playing an ex-con whose Ukrainian prostitute paramour (Irina Potapenko) is accidentally killed by a cop (Andreas Lust) during a bank holdup. Will Krisch enact revenge? Or will he be moved by Lust’s plunge into guilt and depression? An indecisiveness that would irk even Hamlet eats up the film’s transcendantly glacial second half, which is peppered with numerous, always jarring scenes of Krisch pouring his madness into dutifully chopping wood. Like his protagonist, Spielmann seems unsure of where this mess of a situation will wind up, but they both find a conclusion that’s satisfying and authentic. B+ Fri., March 27, 4:45pm, Ritz East and Sat., March 28, 9:30pm, Ritz 5.

Rumba Less annoyingly quirky than their L’Iceberg but a quirk-a-thon nonetheless, the latest near-wordless retro comedy from trio Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy is the tale of a hoofing couple ruined after a car crash. She loses a leg, he gets amnesia, and then things really take a nosedive. As with L’Iceberg the gags are gruesomely hit and miss: rear projection jokes mostly kill while a distended bit with an automatic door is never funny. But the three anchor the hijinks with a surprising and unexpectedly deep melancholy, with the characters descending ever so gradually into a dark funk. Abel, Gordon and Romy aim for Jacques Tati and too often settle for Mr. Bean, but at least it’s not all sunshine. B Fri., March 27, 4:30pm, Ritz 5 and Sat., March 28, 7:15pm, Ritz 5.

The Sea Wall Isabelle Huppert lends her, well, Isabelle Huppert-ness to this well-lived-in but too episodic portrait of 1930s French Colonial Indochina. Surely Marguerite Duras – who wrote Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour and made such aggressively alienating films as India Song and The Truck, which features nothing but Gerard Depardieu and her reading narration cut with shots of, that’s right, a truck – would be pissed that anything this close to middlebrow would bear her name. And yet her childhood memoirs inspired this film from Rithy Panh (S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine), who brings just enough of his documentarian skills to make this at least periodically interesting, though only fitfully engaging. B- Fri., March 27, 4:45pm, The Bridge; Sat.,  March 28, 4:45pm, Ritz 5; and Sun., March 29, 7pm, Ritz 5.

As yet unseen but looking promising:

  • I’d love to report on Moon, the debut feature by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, which features Sam Rockwell in space. But it’s sold out and my trusty film badge, this year, does not include Friday and Saturday night screenings. Sorry, David Bowie’s son! Fri., March 27, 7:15pm (Sold Out)
  • From Doug Pray (Scratch, Surfwise), Art & Copy examines advertising, though apparently, according to City Paper’s Sam Adams, not with the angry foaming at the mouth you’d expect. Hmm. Fri., March 27, 7:30pm, Ritz East.
  • No less than Tony Luke, Jr. stars in The Nail: The Story of Joey Nardone, the first Philly film ever to feature a boxer punching his way against low odds. Also features William Forsythe and Tony Danza. Fri., March 27, 7:15pm, Prince Music Theater; Sun., March 29, 2:15pm, Ritz East.
  • Stubbornly singular filmmaker and first-class perv James Toback directed Tyson, a doc on his good friend and sometime cast member. (RDJ famously hit on him, and then got hit back, in Toback’s Black and White.) Apparently it’s very, very pro-Tyson. Fri., March 27, 7:15pm, Prince Music Theater and Sun., March 29, 2:15pm.
  • Allegedly a decent manga-to-movie translation, both 20th Century Boys and 20th Century Boys: Chapter Two — running in total nearly five hours — plays separately, for those who want to get on this particular trolley. Chapter One: Sat., March 28, 9:15pm, Ritz East. Chapter Two: Sun., March 29, 9:15pm, Ritz East.

Reviews of the films I see this weekend arriving when they arrive. Enjoy the lovely weather! And I’ll see you at the movies! (Maybe.)


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Incidentally I Review the First PFF/CF Weekend

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