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Short Reviews for 5/15: Secrets & Thighs
by Peter Sobczynski

How bad does a movie featuring one of today’s most lusted-after starlets starkers have to be in order to barely get a theatrical release? That question is answered in this latest collection of brief reviews of current films that I didn‘t have time to go into excruciating detail on, along with looks at the latest work from Atom Egoyan, the return of the “Y Tu Mama Tambien” duo and a revival of one of the greatest films ever made.

“Adoration” is the latest film from Atom Egoyan, the enigmatic Canadian filmmaker who became an international favorite thanks to such incontestable masterpieces as “Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter” and then began to lost that standing after such lesser efforts as the deeply flawed “Ararat” and the disastrous “Where the Truth Lies,” and for maybe the first half-hour or so, it feels as if he is back on top of his game. In telling the story of Simon (Devon Bostick), a teenager who, as part of a classroom assignment, informs his classmates that his father was a terrorist who tried to use his unwitting mother as part of a plot to blow up an airplane while she was pregnant with him. It turns out that the entire thing is a fiction that he created with the encouragement of one of his teachers (Arsinee Khanjian) and it begins to grow a life of its own as it makes the leap online and inspires impassioned debates from a wide variety of people until the truth finally comes out. At this point in the story, the film is a fairly fascinating meditation on the notions of family, loss, the cultural fascination with victimization in the post-9/11 era and the ways in which technology can both expose and muddy certain truths in equal measure (a conceit that Egoyan has been toying with as far back as 1989’s “Speaking Parts”) and I couldn’t wait to see where he was going with this story. Unfortunately, it is at precisely this point that the film begins to completely fall apart in a mess of muddled storytelling and implausible character behavior that feels more like someone trying and failing to approximate Egoyan’s elliptical narrative style than an example of the real thing. By the time all of the mysteries and enigmas surrounding the characters and their respective pasts have been revealed, it is impossible to care either on an intellectual or an emotional level and matters aren’t helped much by a couple of exceptionally ill-timed bad laughs that appear at the exact moment when we should be completely wrapped up in the story proper. “Adoration” is ambitious and I can see it inspiring any number of fascinating post-screening discussions amongst audience members inspired by its provocations--too bad that this is one of those films that isn’t nearly as interesting as the conversations that it may inspire.

Over the past 50 years, Jean-Luc Godard has made any number of films to which the word “masterpiece” could legitimately be applied; “Breathless,” “A Woman is a Woman,” “Contempt,” “Alphaville,” “Pierrot Le Fou,” “Weekend,” “First Name Carmen” and “In Praise of Love,” to name just a few. I love all of those films and many of his other works but if I had to pick just one of them as his greatest work, it would be 1962’s “Vivre sa Vie,” his extraordinarily moving fourth film and the third and most fruitful of his collaborations with former wife Anna Karina. In the film, which is divided into 12 separate sections, she plays Nana, an impulsive young woman who leaves her husband and child to make it as an actress but who eventually drifts into prostitution. At first, she tries to maintain the same kind of aloof attitude towards her new profession that she utilizes in her everyday life--she works for herself and keeps her emotions well hidden--but she soon finds it impossible to keep up that façade as she finds herself befriending an aging philosopher and falling in love with one of her clients. Alas, it is also at this time that she hooks up with a local pimp, a decision that kicks off a chain of events that culminates in one of the most devastating conclusions in cinema history. From a formal standpoint, the film is as dazzling as anything that the always-experimental Godard has ever done--like many of his key works, he uses unusual editing patterns and frequently includes allusions to film, literature and music as a way of underlining the themes of the story--but what separates this from his other works is how incredibly emotional it is beneath its hipster trappings. This is due in equal part to Karina’s incredible performance--a bravura bit of acting that remains as startlingly fresh and direct as ever--and the way in which Godard has captured her unique presence. Over the years, Godard has been occasionally accused of treating his female characters roughly but when you watch the truly loving way in which he depicts Nana here, it is impossible not to be moved. This is one of the greatest cinematic Valentines that a director has ever presented to a leading lady and if you get a chance to see this revival as it slowly makes its way around the country, do whatever you can to see it. (If it helps, you might be interested to learn that this was apparently one of the films that Sasha Grey and Steven Soderbergh used as part of the inspiration for “The Girlfriend Experience.”)

Following in the footsteps of “Short Cuts,” “Magnolia” and “Crash,” “Powder Blue” offers us yet another multi-layered narrative following the lives of a group of desperate and disparate L.A. denizens who unexpectedly find themselves bouncing in and out of each others lives over the course of a few days. This time around, our A-team participants include Jessica Biel as a stripper with a son in a coma and a missing dog, Eddie Redmayne as a lovelorn mortician who finds the dog, Ray Liotta as a recently paroled and terminally ill criminal trying to find the daughter he has never known and Forest Whittaker as a suicidal ex-priest who keeps going up to perfect strangers and offering them $50,000 to shoot him in the heart while the B-team is populated by Lisa Kudrow as a waitress who befriends the priest by offering him a symbolic slice of pie (representing the goodness in the world, ya pervs), Alejandro Romero as a transgender prostitute, Kris Kristofferson as a crime lord who inexplicably does all of his business on city busses and Patrick Swayze, whose Bret Michaels-like wig suggest a serious lack of commitment to the tenets of Sparkle Moton, as a strip club owner named Velvet Larry. Heavy-handed and painfully contrived, writer director Timothy Linh Bui’s second effort wastes a reasonably good cast, all of whom turn in ridiculously overwrought performances (Whittaker has one scene, in which he discovers that his car has been stolen, that is so bad that he should be forced to give back his Oscar in retribution), and offers viewers nothing that they haven’t seen at least a dozen times before. I take that back--there is one thing here that most of you probably haven’t seen before. As I mentioned before, Jessica Biel plays a stripper and unlike most recent movie strippers (I’m looking at you, Jessica Alba), she actually does strip down in a couple of scenes that should inspire an enormous number of hits over at Mr. For the record, they seem to be real and they are certainly spectacular--too bad that one can’t say the same for the film featuring them.

Eight years after bursting onto the scene with the sexy international hit “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna have reteamed for the new soccer-themed film “Rudo y Cursi”--unfortunately, not only does it fail to live up to the high standards of their previous collaboration, it doesn’t even live up to the bar set by such earlier soccer films as “Victory,” “Goal” and “Kicking and Screaming.” The two play a pair of soccer-playing brothers from a tiny Mexican town who are recruited by a scout and wind up becoming huge stars on the field--of course, they screw things up for themselves thanks to a combination of ego, poor lifestyle choices and slumps on the field, all of which leads to a climax in which they face off against each other in a sequence that will remind some viewers of the episode of “The Simpsons” in which Bart and Lisa were rival hockey players (without the drama and emotion found there, of course). Part of the problem with the film is that writer-director Carlos Cuaron (brother of Alfonso) has given us a story that consists entirely of one hoary cliché after another. Another flaw is that the soccer footage is almost entirely devoid of excitement--it would appear that neither of the stars could cut the mustard as soccer players and Cuaron unsuccessfully tries to cover up for this by cutting away from the action at all the key moments. However, the biggest problem with the film is that the two leads, who were so effortlessly charming in “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” are stuck here playing a pair of jerks who are so unlikable and uninteresting that when they come to that final showdown, most viewers will be trying to figure who to root against than who to root for. If the idea of seeing a film about small-town kids getting sucked up into the world of professional sports and discovering that they need more than their raw talent to survive sounds interesting to you, I urge you to seek out the wonderful “Sugar,” a fascinating film tracking a baseball prodigy from the Dominican Republic struggling to survive in the world of minor-league baseball, and give this nonsense a pass.

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originally posted: 05/15/09 13:39:56
last updated: 05/15/09 13:49:51
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