This Week's New Releases
Tell Them Who You Are
dir. Mark Wexler
Fri July 8–Thurs July 14 at Northwest Film Forum.
Three things true about parents: (1) They are a colossal pain in the ass whose emotional deficiencies feel like direct attacks on your human sovereignty. (2) You can never get satisfaction from them. (3) Because 1 and 2 are pretty common sentiments, the frustration you feel about your parents usually doesn't land with the same severity when you try and explain it to others. All three of these little homilies are at play in Mark Wexler's documentary about his dad, the legendary Hollywood cinematographer Haskell Wexler. While Mark's film skillfully sidesteps the chief peril intrinsic to such an enterprise—this isn't a typical showbiz daddy-never-understood kind of picture—Tell Them Who You Are still suffers from a certain universality. Which is to say that yes, Haskell is vain, self-involved, emotionally unavailable, judgmental, sentimental, cranky, and prone to making offhanded insults that ruin you forever, but then again... he's your dad. What else do you expect?
There's a lot of unrequited yearning in the film, mainly coming from Mark, who uses his directorial aegis to both flatter and damn his subject. And despite the somewhat cloying habit of cutting to photos of himself as a sad-looking kid every time his dad says something shitty, which he does a lot, there's an unmistakable pathos at work, too. The most telling moments are, naturally, the frustrating ones; Haskell harangues Mark about camera placement constantly, but he doesn't get truly vicious until Mark argues back. In a pleasing tit for tat, Mark waits until Haskell's ugly side emerges before he allows the talking heads—including Conrad Hall, Michael Douglas, Norman Jewison, and several other Hollywood royals—to support the notion that the celebrated cinematographer is also, to borrow a phrase from Haskell himself, a "14-carat prick."
But it's also one of these same talking heads, Jane Fonda, who dispenses the only real nugget of wisdom in the whole movie: that to get anywhere in a relationship like this, it's incumbent upon the son to come to the father with humility, because the father is an immovable force. Before the words even leave her mouth, you can see that's exactly what this film is trying to do. SEAN NELSON
dir. Pierre Salvadori
Opens Fri July 8.
That Après Vous took two years to reach our shores is telling: There's very little original, or even engaging, about it. It's not a terrible movie, at least not outrightly; it's solidly constructed, makes you long for French cuisine, and stars the great Daniel Auteuil. But the rub is the fact that nothing about it is even remotely remarkable. It just sits there, another foray into light-hearted French fluff.
Antoine (Auteuil ) is a restaurant manager who stumbles across a suicidal wreck named Louis (José Garcia) in a Paris park. Louis suffers from a broken heart—Antoine finds him perched atop a suitcase, one end of a garden hose wrapped around his neck, the other tied to a tree branch. Antoine rescues the sap, takes him into his home, and all hell breaks loose. Some of this hell is marginally funny; most is painfully bland.
In its early scenes, Après Vous builds a neat momentum, as Antoine careens about in an attempt to help Louis put his life back together. Once the brisk first reel ends, however, affairs of the heart take over, and what once had the makings of a decent farce quickly deteriorates into a quasi love triangle. Antoine falls for Louis's heartbreaker, she falls for him, Louis thinks she's seeing someone new, he asks Antoine to investigate, et cetera, yawn. If I've learned anything over the years (and that's debatable), it's to run screaming from a foreign import that looks like a Harvey Weinstein wet dream. Après Vous will surely stain his PJs. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
dir. The Spierig Brothers
Fri July 8–Thurs July 14 at the Varsity.
Aside from the apparently limitless wave of untrained actresses willing to doff their tops, much of the motivation for a steady diet of low-budget horror films comes from occasionally stumbling across a fiercely imaginative filmmaker struggling with ridiculously limited resources, somehow spinning crass gold out of a few bucks and a couple hunks of latex. Undead, the long-in-the-can, much-hyped-on-the-web debut of Australian writers/directors/editors Michael and Peter Spierig, more than qualifies as a success on the financial front (with a budget of less than a million dollars, it makes Robert Rodriguez look like Scrooge McDuck), but offers precious little creative inspiration of its own. Rather blatantly designed to be an insta-cult classic from the word go, it commits the one cardinal, unpardonable sin of a genre film: being dull.
Set in a vaguely retro Aussie small town, the premise borrows equally from George Romero's Dead saga and Tobe Hooper's lamented crap-classic Lifeforce: After a mysterious meteor storm zombifies much of the populace, the dwindling survivors must turn to a heavily armed loner nutball (bearded hulk Mungo McKay, channeling Bruce Campbell) for protection. Many, many brainpans are ventilated in the process, to shockingly little effect.
Throughout, the filmmakers consistently crib from the best: John Woo's two-fisted gunfights here, Phantasm's quad-barreled shotgun there, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson's ambulatory body parts, well, everywhere. Unfortunately, they fail to bring anything unique to the mix, coming off as zealous fanboys with a checklist. (Harry Knowles, perhaps predictably, has already gone nuts for the movie.) The ability to make a film—any film—on such a meager budget is commendable, really, but the Spierigs seriously need to work on transferring their considerable enthusiasm behind the camera to the audience. A movie featuring swarms of zombie flying fish should just be more fun, somehow. ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. David LaChapelle
Opens Fri July 8.
In Rize, photographer-turned-director David LaChapelle introduces America to a new form of dance, called Krumping, which he believes is poised to sweep the nation—or at least its urban parts. The dance involves spasmodic shaking, painted faces, and displays of mock violence, and it emerged in South Central Los Angeles through a strange confluence of forces that include, to name just two, a cocaine-dealer-turned-clown (the inspiration for the face-painting), and the Rodney King beating (the inspiration for some of the rage).
Krumping is difficult to describe; it has been compared to the ecstatic fits of Pentecostal Christians and likened, in its ghetto origins, to breakdancing. Neither comparison quite does it justice, though the Pentecostal comparison comes close. Krumping is also difficult to capture on film because of the speed of the movements. (LaChapelle had to put a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie saying the dances are, in fact, being shown at their actual speed.)
One might think that a dance form so unique it defies description, and so speedy is defies easy depiction, would inspire a cinematic approach that is comparably avant-garde. But LaChapelle does not seize this opportunity, instead shoehorning the complex origins and continued evolution of Krumping into a hackneyed storyline that presumably seemed most marketable to Hollywood. You know the storyline: Ghetto kids free themselves from their oppressive surroundings through creativity and dedication. So faithful is LaChapelle to this tired arc that we are presented, at the end of the movie, with a scene of one Krump dancer, having overcome certain ghetto obstacles, now triumphantly Krumping on a California beach at sunset, facing down the indifferent ocean.
If one looks past this kind of ridiculous plotting, there are a number of provocative moments in Rize—comparisons between Krumping and African tribal dance, comments on the power of the absurd, an exploration of the unique sadness of ghetto clowns. And then there is the dancing itself, which is remarkable and so thoroughly American that it's worth seeing on screen, even if it comes inside a narrative package completely unworthy of its creativity. ELI SANDERS
Year of the Yao
dirs. James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo
Opens Fri July 8.
As far as modern inspirational sports figures go, Chinese basketball sensation Yao Ming is decidedly different than most: stoic, hard working, with just the occasional hint of being a big, goofy kid at heart. For better or worse, this by-the-numbers documentary of the mammoth player's first season with the Houston Rockets closely mirrors the sensibility of its subject. Aside from a few engaging glimpses of Yao's outsider status (his deadpan reaction to the capitalist nirvana of Best Buy is priceless), there's precious little else that justifies getting up from the couch to catch. ANDREW WRIGHT