Balls of Fury
dir. Ben Garant
For those who found Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story too intellectually challenging, here comes Balls of Fury, starring the previously unknown (to me at least) schlub Dan Fogler as Randy Daytona, a onetime Ping-Pong prodigy whose skills on the tabletop propel him into a shadowy underworld of win-or-die pinball and international gangsters of dubious sexuality.
Nineteen years after suffering a crushing defeat in the Olympics, Randy is whoring his talents at a dim Reno casino when FBI agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) approaches him with a ludicrous scheme: Join an underground tournament being held by mysterious arch-villain Feng (Christopher Walken), gather intel, and help topple the gangster's operation. Along the way love is found, gay panic is ignited (and ignited and ignited), and many a ball is crushed—both in games and in Randy's shorts.
An obvious riff on Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon, Balls of Fury is a clusterfuck of wheezing gags, the vast majority of which involve Fogler's portly physique tumbling over any and all obstacles placed conveniently in his way. As the villainous Feng, Walken manages to have some fun, but the rest of the supporting cast are reduced to mere setup men, their occasional inspired quips hopelessly overcome by a deluge of lame slapstick, shrieking gay courtesans (wocka-wocka-wocka!), and crushed gonads. Not even the always-welcome sight of Maggie Q can rescue the movie. By the time things limp to a close, your head will throb as much as Randy's oft-abused Scrabble bag. "A huge comedy with tiny balls" reads the film's tagline, and as it turns out it's the funniest thing about the entire enterprise. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
Pierrot le Fou
dir. Jean-Luc Godard
As breezy as Breathless but with an undertow of poisonous ennui, Pierrot le Fou is a rendition of the Bonnie and Clyde story told à la française. The bourgeois TV producer Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo, looking grizzly) has begun to tire of a Paris house party where the guests speak in commercial jingles for deodorant and automobiles—except for the director Samuel Fuller, who appears in a cameo to expound on cinema: "A film is a battleground: love, hate, action, violence, death—in one word, emotions." Ferdinand leaves the party and finds his battleground at home, where his ex-girlfriend Marianne (Anna Karina in a prim suit) is idly caring for his children.
They sneak over to Marianne's flat for a spot of hedonism, which starts off deliciously. But when a mysteriously dead body threatens to spoil their fun, Marianne and Ferdinand—whom Marianne insists on calling Pierrot—hop in a car and pantomime driving to the coast. And when I say "pantomime," I mean, they're sitting in the dark in a car that obviously isn't going anywhere. Multicolored lights sweep across the windshield like wipers. It's a road movie without the road.
But there are gas stations and beaches and jukeboxes and parrots and pop-music interludes and piles upon piles of books. Marianne manages to look adorable even when they're living off the land, but she can't manage to keep herself entertained. Forever complaining of boredom, she buys 45s they can't play and dreams of moving to Miami Beach. Ferdinand, for his part, could read books all day. "You speak to me with words," the archetypal girl tells the consummate guy. "I look at you with feelings."
Though such a perpendicular love is doomed to crash hard (the end of the movie is overly dramatic), the view along the way is so sweet and despondent you'll forgive the stereotypes. And really, who can resist Anna Karina in a red dress? ANNIE WAGNER
dir. Woody Allen
All the disagreements in Manhattan can be reduced to one, a debate between Woody Allen's character, Isaac, and a socialite at a swank party: Is it better to combat incoming Nazis from New Jersey with bricks and bats or devastating satire in the Times?
Isaac, naturally, chooses the former. He is the down-to-earth, basketball-dribbling TV comedy writer—the representative of the masses—while the socialite, played by Diane Keaton, is an uptight Radcliffe-educated overthinker continuously trailing irrelevant facts and pretentious pronunciations ("van Goch"). She has a penis substitute of a dachshund named Waffles, an analyst named Donny, and hair like Rowlf the Muppet's.
They're the yin and yang of art appreciation, the populist and the aesthete, the brick-thrower and the satirist. And they're not, it turns out, meant for each other. But the movie isn't supposed to be a perfect romance. It consciously dabbles in the perverse—Allen's character, left by his ex-wife (Meryl Streep) for another woman, turns to a 17-year-old played by Mariel Hemingway; and Keaton's character is still belittled by an ex-husband (the comical specimen of Wallace Shawn), whom she sees as her superior in every way.
Manhattan may be, though, the most integrated of Allen's films. It's intellectual and goofy, heartbreaking and philosophical, modern and nostalgic, shot in loving black and white that makes the lights and shapes of the still-gritty city sparkle like diamonds in coal.
Manhattan is not about a city, however; it's about a space defined by culture, art, writing, music, and film. When Isaac takes his final, bittersweet stab at romance, he is spurred on not by true love, but by imagining the second movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" symphony, Louis Armstrong's recording of "Potatohead Blues," Swedish movies, "Sentimental Education" by Flaubert, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and "those incredible apples and pears by Cezanne"—in that order. Anyone who can't live without the arts shouldn't live without seeing this movie. JEN GRAVES
dir. Monty Lapica
Clomping across the screen like an especially gritty movie of the week, Self-Medicated tells the story of Andrew, a troubled 17-year-old living on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Left reeling by the death of his father, Andrew devotes himself to self-destruction, indulging in drink and drugs and random violence until his mother (who's battling a painkiller addiction of her own) ships him off to draconian rehab facility. "As Andrew is subjected to the secret physical and emotional abuses of the program, something inside him is reawakened," reads the film's press release. "He must somehow get free to save what's left of his life, but to do that, he knows he must first face his own demons head on."
Self-Medicated was written and directed by Monty Lapica, a formerly troubled 17-year-old whose mother sent him to a draconian rehab facility after the death of his father. Lapica, now in his mid-20s, also stars as Andrew, and his obvious distance from his teen years is one of his film's lesser problems. Stylistically, Self-Medicated strives for a fearless, gritty naturalism, and Lapica found a cast that's up to the challenge—most notably Diane Venora as Andrew's complicated mom. Unfortunately, Lapica's would-be gritty naturalism is deployed in the service of a script that races from cliché to cliché, with an obliviousness that's almost miraculous. "No, YOU don't understand!" screeches Andrew in one of the film's early confrontations; both the screeching and soap-quality dialogue continues for the next 90 minutes. By the time Andrew's led to his climactic emotional epiphany by a wise black hobo (seriously), I wasn't the only audience member laughing at the screen.
"But that's exactly how it happened!" I can hear a defensive Lapica crowing. Maybe so. But interested parties can find more truth and better art in any episode of A&E's Intervention. DAVID SCHMADER
A Day at the Beach
dir. Simon Hesera
Little about the movie A Day at the Beach is ordinary. Let's begin with its source. It's based on novel by Heere Heeresma, a Dutch author and poet, which was published in 1968, and has so far has been made into two movies—one by the Dutch director Theo van Gogh in 1984, and the other by the Polish-born director Roman Polanski in 1970. The fate of Theo van Gogh is world famous: He was assassinated by a Muslim fundamentalist in 2004. The fate of Polanski is not yet known, as he is still alive and making movies. Polanski, however, did not direct his version of Beach, though he was supposed to—it was directed by Simon Hesera, a man who has had close to no impact on the history of movie making. But Beach is still a Polanski movie because he wrote its script and produced it. In fact, while Beach was being edited, Polanski's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by Charles Mason and his gang.
Some of this badness, this evil, marks the mood of the movie. At every moment, you fear that something sinister is going to hurt or kill the main characters—an alcoholic uncle, played by Mark Burns, and his crippled niece, Beatie Edney. The niece is too innocent, the uncle is too absurd, and the beach they are visiting for the day is hardly a happy place. It's deserted, cold, shadowed by low rain clouds, and bordered by tourist shops that are run by freaks and madmen. In one scene, the niece gets caught in some fishing nets and you think the worst is about happen. But somehow she gets untangled and finds her uncle by some beach chairs, drinking beer he bought from shop managed two clownish gay men—one of whom is Peter Sellers.
The editing of Beach is choppy, the dialogue jumps from place to place, and the story seems to head nowhere. Though set in England (or Denmark—it's hard to tell), there is something Russian, or Dostoevskian, about the uncle. He is a volatile confusion of emotional states—now he laughs, now he cries, now he shouts, demands, threatens, mocks, and so on. Few films are as genuinely as strange as Beach. CHARLES MUDEDE