This Week's New Releases
dir. Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch's latest film opens with the arrival of a letter. It's a frilly thing, pink and presumably perfumed, and it sends its recipient, Don Johnston (Bill Murray), into a tailspin. Don is a man who lives his life in cheerful inaction—having made a fortune in computers, he's content to watch TV, bullshit with his neighbor Winston (Jeffrey Wright), and bed blondes—but the letter, delivered just as his current lover Sherry (Julie Delpy) is marching out the door with suitcase in hand, contains some rather unsettling news. Don, it seems, has a son—a son who's looking for him.
Just who the mother is remains a mystery, however, and though Don is more than happy to ignore the correspondence, Winston, who fancies himself an amateur sleuth, has other plans. So off Don goes to investigate, following Winston's encouragement to suburbs near and far, moving from airports to rental cars to hotels in search of the former flame who may have produced his offspring. Along the way he is nearly seduced by a teenage vixen, spends a creepy dinner with a real estate–obsessed couple, and receives a nasty beating—all the while remaining unsure whether or not he really wants to find out the truth.
This being a Jarmusch film, patience rules the day. Unfortunately, as with the fatally inert Coffee and Cigarettes, the style can't hold. Jarmusch's best films have always been built around an amicably aimless spirit, but Broken Flowers is undermined by a lack of drive comparable to that of its main character. It's one thing to watch someone wander for 90 minutes as long as we trust that he (and we) will eventually arrive at a destination. In this case, Jarmusch appears to have no real focus, and by the time the "mystery" reveals itself to be maddeningly inconsequential, the entire film borders on a malicious prank. There's slight and there's shiftless—Broken Flowers, sadly, is the latter. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
dir. Michael McGowan
The U.S. and Canada are right next to each other. They share, for the most part, the same language, and the physical differences between, say, a white American and a white Canadian do not exist. But all of the similarities (heritage, geography, language) rapidly dissolve the minute a Canadian movie like Saint Ralph hits the screen. By the film's end, the doubts of this realization are dead: Canadians are not Americans. Canadians are Canadians.
No American, in right or wrong mind, could make a movie like Saint Ralph, which is about a 14-year-old boy (Adam Butcher) who abuses himself at every opportunity, and desires anything that moves with the shape of a woman. He even comes in a swimming pool when he gets a glimpse of a curvy naked woman showering in a changing room. But the movie is not about his sexual awakening; nor is it about his faith and high school (both of which are Catholic). It's about him becoming an orphan, and his failure to deal with this fact.
The boy's mother is slowly dying, his father recently died, and his grandparents are long dead. He is all alone in the world, and because there is nothing he can do about it, he goes mad. After falling and bumping his head, the boy opens his eyes and decides he needs to win the Boston Marathon, an achievement that would constitute a miracle. For reasons that are cosmic, the winning miracle will become the medical miracle his mother desperately needs. And all of this is a comedy. And the teen action is hot. And there is a priest who is sweetly gay and reads Nietzsche, the philosopher who declared god's death in the 19th century. How can all of this possibly work? Only in Canada. CHARLES MUDEDE
dir. Arie Posin
Suburbia has a dark underside, apparently. While probably not news to anybody who has caught even a few frames of Blue Velvet, American Beauty, Desperate Housewives, etc., the subject of middle-class shenanigans still proves weirdly irresistible to waves of indie filmmakers bent on stirring up the muck behind white picket fences. The subject of much buzz at last year's Sundance, the fiercely quirky The Chumscrubber attempts to put a new, heavily Prozac-ed spin on the usual cult tropes, but ultimately can't overcome its overwhelming Darko debt. Despite a few beyond-the-call performances and an initially intriguing spacey pace, director Arie Posin's debut feels less like a fully realized movie, and more like a delivery system for an eventual domination of the T-shirt aisle at Hot Topic.
Working from a story by Posin, fellow newcomer Zac Stanford's screenplay follows a zonked-out high schooler (Jamie Bell), whose nuke-resistant personal-space bubble is forcibly breached after witnessing the death of his small-time dealer friend. Soon, the quest for a misplaced stash leads to both a botched kidnapping and increasing levels of pharmaceutical-fueled dementia, all the while staying under the radar of the community's variously self-medicating parental units. Sadly, any satiric potential gets bulldozed over by the script's overly knowing, self-congratulatory tone.
Not all is lost: Posin demonstrates a nice feel for the slow-mo moments before meltdown, with a knack for long tracking shots that could pan out promisingly in the future. He also demonstrates enough sense to mostly get out of the way of his almost embarrassingly top-loaded adult cast, which includes Allison Janney, Ralph Fiennes, and John Heard. Best of show honors, though, go to Glenn Close, as the stone-faced, inwardly destroyed Stepford mother of the deceased dealer. Her silent scream of frustration before answering the door to accept yet another casserole dish says more than an ocean of too-hip quips. ANDREW WRIGHT
Caterina in the Big City
dir. Paolo Virzi
This strange little film tackles a number of oppositional subjects: "liberal" versus "conservative," country versus city, intellectual versus would-be. It takes place in Rome, where pretty Caterina (Alice Teghil) moves from the country with her failed novelist father and perpetually bottled-up mother. But while Caterina is a pleasantly goofy girl (fond of singing, she's prone to bop recklessly during choir rehearsals) whose wide-eyed enthusiasm quickly trumps whatever homesickness for the countryside she may feel, the same can't be said for her father (Sergio Castellitto), who reaches Rome expecting to smoothly immerse himself into the refined world of the brainy and important, but instead finds himself cock-blocked by his own failings as both a human and an intellectual. In short time, Caterina rises while her father falls, and the functionally dysfunctional family quickly begins to disintegrate.
Where Caterina in the Big City succeeds is in its simple moments, when director Paolo Virzi lets his camera trail Caterina around, immersing us in the confusion of her new home. She finds new friends (the spoiled daughter of a politician, the spoiled daughter of a notable lefty), meets a cute guy, and tries to keep her sanity even as her father is losing his. Eventually, all the talk of politics and class becomes tedious, as in life. But the blather is overmatched by the film's endearing awkwardness, which is as hard to resist as the sight of Caterina bopping while she sings. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
dir. Hans Weingartner
Few things can throw a rod quicker than a movie with a message. The Edukators, the first German Cannes competitor in over a decade, starts strong, with an ingratiatingly anarchic vibe, but quickly devolves into a dust-dry, hectoring socialist lecture: a cinematic version of Kenner's My First Revolution playset.
Filmed in artfully grainy digital video, the initially intriguing scenario follows a trio of high minded, dirt-poor young activists—proactive stud, idealistic dweeb, hot chick—who make a habit of breaking into the homes of vacationing fat cats in order to rearrange the furniture and leave vaguely threatening manifestos. Soon, however, their burgeoning movement (and latent love triangle) suffers a fundamental breakdown when they are forced to take a hostage during an impromptu home invasion. Squirreling away in a remote cabin, they attempt to change their captive's mind on distribution of wealth, youthful rebellion, and seemingly everything else even remotely Che related.
Writer/director Hans Weingartner manages to raise more than a few interesting points about the drive and futility of these kids today. Unfortunately, he also proves to be far too indulgent with his creations, unable to cut away from even the most mundane of activities or discussion. Before long, his rhetoric-spouting, voraciously dogmatic Dogme style enters the realm of the simplistically excruciating. By the time Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" gets stuck on infinite repeat on the soundtrack, even the most hemophiliac of bleeding hearts may find themselves rooting for the ruling class. ANDREW WRIGHT