Thursday, October 1, 2009

Film Round-Up for October


These reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

In this edition of the Film Round-Up: Two indies (one better than the other), a foreign stinker, and a box office dud. Is Diablo Cody (pictured) running out of time? Will she have to go back to stripping? Stay tuned.

Sorry the site hasn't been updated as frequently. Part of it is that I'm just getting over an awful cold that had me wheezing and coughing like a rummy after a long hike. Throw in that and more writing work, and it's hard to carve out the free time.

Say, have you stopped by BiblioBuffet? I'm writing a new column on sports books called "The Athletic Supporter." You should check it out; you'll love it.

And now on with the vitriol:

Peter and Vandy (Dir: Jay DiPietro). Starring: Jason Ritter, Jess Weixler, Jesse L. Martin, Tracie Thoms, Noah Bean. Two young New Yorkers (Ritter, Weixler) meet cute during a lunch break, paving the way for a relationship that is alternately euphoric and maddening. The movie's wrinkle: The couple's history is purposely told out of order, a device that is actually effective. DiPietro's shuffling forces you to pay attention, getting your mind involved instead of waiting for cues, while Ritter (Happy Endings) and Weixler (Teeth) convincingly play characters enduring the emotional ringer of a serious relationship without isolating us. DiPietro doesn't go overboard with his cleverness in showing the way we revisit relationships--as a series of jumbled, crucial moments that range from the mundane (preparing for a job interview) to the spectacular (the first "I love you"). A couple's past is never linear. A quirky, thoughtful gem that should not be compared to (500) Days of Summer, but probably will anyway. Best scene: Peter and Vandy arguing over the proper way to make a PB&J. ***

Irene in Time
(Dir: Henry Jaglom). Starring: Tanna Frederick, Andrea Marcovicci, Victoria Tennant, Jack Maxwell, Lance Idewu, Karen Black. Singer Irene (Frederick), who still hasn't gotten over the years-ago death of her playboy father, stumbles upon a long-hidden clue that might provide some answers about the man's past. While this is going on, Irene navigates the dating scene, something she is ill-equipped to handle, and confides to her friends and her father's old racetrack cronies. Starts off as an honest and insightful look at the dynamic between fathers and daughters and how it can be a comfort or a chokehold, before lapsing into overwrought symbolic sentiment and, well, lots of whining. Frederick tries her best to play a woman without an emotional rudder, but too often she comes across as a high-maintenance, sobbing nightmare. Though writer/director Jaglom's conversational, loose-limbed storytelling style is an asset throughout, it's difficult to generate compassion for the title character as the movie proceeds. Women, understandably, may have a different reaction. ** [PG-13]

Jennifer's Body (Dir: Karyn Kusama). Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, Adam Brody, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris. Follow-up from Juno's Academy-Award winning screenwriter Diablo Cody again covers high school life, only with a lot more back-biting--literally. When small-town high school beauty Jennifer (Fox of dubious Transformers fame) is butchered by a group of occult-following rock musicians who mistakenly believe she's a virgin, the girl reemerges as a blood-thirsty, boy-hungry demon. The only person who sees what's going on is Jennifer's mousy, longtime best friend, Needy (Seyfried, Mamma Mia!). Periodically funny and cheeky, Cody's script fails to cash in on the dynamics of frenemies--namely how Needy's quest to stop Jennifer gives her the chance to finally be her own person--and other dynamics of high school life. Scream and Carrie covered the same bloody hallways much, much better; Jennifer's Body is strictly splatter-by-numbers. Fox and Seyfried are OK, Sedaris is wasted, and J.K. Simmons is terrific (as usual) as an overly emotional science teacher. ** [R]

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Dir: Uli Edel). Starring: Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck, Johanna Wokalek, Bruno Ganz. In 1967, Germany was under political upheaval and journalist Ulrike Meinhof (Gedeck) covered it, though she hungered for a more active role. She got it, joining forces with revolutionaries Andreas Baader (Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Wokalek) in a series of increasingly violent acts to promote a more human society, paving the way for German authorities to futilely fight back. What could have been a provocative, fascinating look at well-intentioned rebellion gone mad is butchered by Edel from the word go, when it becomes clear that there's no central theme or character anchoring down the film. Instead, we get a blur of characters shuffling in and out of plans, while Edel crams subplots galore and scenes of beating, bombings, and shouting matches like he's getting paid by the pound. Unpleasant part of 20th century European history to be sure, but Edel's relentless desire to provoke coupled with the leaden pace and clumsy, confusing storytelling makes The Baader Meinhof Complex both unwatchable and unenlightening. Somehow, I don't think that was the intent. Amazingly, this was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film last year. * [R]

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