This Week's New Releases
dir. Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni
Fri April 8-Thurs April 14 at the Varsity.
From New York Stories to The Animatrix to, God save us, Four Rooms, multi-segmented films have long proven that, when it comes to directors on set, more is definitely less. Still, the early promise of Eros, in which a trio of highly regarded helmers (Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni) set their considerable sights on sexual obsession, is more than enough to kick the wary filmgoer's salivary glands into overdrive. More's the pity, then, that this high-class mind melding yields some decidedly uneven results. Perhaps most damningly, for a movie ostensibly about rampant naughtiness, it generates less overall heat than the average late-night stewardess-in-trouble opus.
Of the three, Kar-Wai's opening segment, documenting the impossible romance between a virginal tailor and a world-weary party girl, fares the best, even if the director's trademark slow-burning romantic ennui ultimately feels stymied by the shortened running time. Even so, this abridged take on the filmmaker's usual obsessive longing, aided by Christopher Doyle's typically exquisite cinematography (Gong Li has never looked better, which is saying quite a bit), should work the mojos of completists and newcomers alike. Far less satisfying, sadly, is Soderbergh's witty yet slight exploration of psychiatrist/patient privilege, which is only saved from smug inconsequentiality by some striking high-contrast noir lighting and Alan Arkin's incomparable half-swallowed line delivery. And then there's Antonioni's threesome saga The Dangerous Thread of Things, which, with its horrendous Godzilla-worthy dubbing, ear-curdling Europop yelp of a soundtrack, and frequent shots of wild horses running amuck, feels like nothing less than a hysterically dead-on SCTV parody of pretentious foreign fare. (Still, one has to give the 90-something director horndog props for discovering the stunning, frequently nude Luisa Ranieri, who could quite honestly be the Jane Russell of the new century.) Viewers looking for honest smut should consider sticking to Skinamax. ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. The Farrelly brothers
Opens Fri April 8.
People seem to love the Farrelly brothers. More specifically, people seem to love their peculiar take on love. Peter and Bobby have already directed a number of well-received quirky romantic comedies that make women giggle and swoon while guys laugh so hard they bust a nut, and now they've made Fever Pitch (based on the Nick Hornby novel), which is yet another take on two awkward people doing their best to work their way through an unconventionally warped relationship.
In Fever Pitch, Drew Barrymore plays Lindsey, a successful and warmhearted businesswoman who has everything but the man of her dreams. Jimmy Fallon plays Ben, a goofy and loveable high school math teacher who, it just so happens, has everything but the woman of his dreams. Together, these two couldn't get any cuter if their characters were being played by two floppy-eared puppies wearing pink and blue satin bows around their necks.
After meeting during a class field trip, Lindsey and Ben find themselves in the midst of a seemingly perfect relationship. Soon, though, as Lindsey's snooty friends warned would happen, Ben's flaws begin to show. And it's not so much that he has flaws, but rather a single (and very troubling) flaw--he's fanatically obsessed with the Boston Red Sox.
Since it was filmed during the Sox's 2003-04 World Series-winning season, Fever Pitch includes plenty of footage from games (it wouldn't have been doable otherwise, so I'm glad they made it legit); they even got permission to be on the field after the Sox won the series-ending game four. The bummer, though, is that it isn't as funny as other Farrelly classics. It still has that "cute as fuck" spin to it that is utterly unhateable (even if you usually don't like the whole romantic comedy thing), but no nuts will be busted this time around. MEGAN SELING
Off the Map
dir. Campbell Scott
Opens Fri April 8.
The man, the myth, the mustache: Frankly, it takes a lot for me to not recommend a movie starring Sam Elliott. Sadly, Off the Map, a good-looking yet overly stagy character piece in the wilds of New Mexico, fits the bill. Despite an often-stunning sense of time and place, it can't escape some fatally stage-bound dialogue.
Set deep in the thick of the '70s (those with a phobia of beaded curtains and macramé knickknacks need not apply), director Campbell Scott's film follows the coming-of-age saga of a tomboy growing up within a quasi-nomadic family proudly living off the land, with occasional visits to the local dump. The good news is that Scott is as intuitive a filmmaker as he is an actor; working with cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia, he creates some lovely, startling color schemes in the wide open spaces. The director occasionally gets so blissed out on the mood he's created that he loses the narrative thread entirely, which may actually be the best moments of the film. Unfortunately, such golden bits can't negate the cumulative effect of Joan Ackermann's script (adapted from her play), which is awash in enough twinkly magic realism to give Garrison Keillor a canker sore. As for the actors, those with the least amount of lines tend to come off the best, especially the increasingly invaluable J. K. Simmons as a dimwitted friend of the family. Far less fortunate are 11-year-old Valentina de Angelis, who has to shoulder the bulk of the verbal whimsy, and Joan Allen, who may have finally met her formidable match as an earth mother sharing a mystical bond with an embarrassed-looking coyote. And then there's Elliott, as the chronically depressed, constantly crying father, who takes his stock character and transforms it into something honest-to-goodness tragic; when he breaks down, it's like watching Mount Rushmore crumble. Whenever he's on the screen, character gains a slight toehold over the overwhelming preciousness of the script. Long live the 'stache. ANDREW WRIGHT