This Week's New Releases
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters
dir. Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis
It's my own fault for not getting stoned first. I'd never been to an in-theater press screening before, and for some reason I thought it would be more difficult getting in. As an 11-minute TV show, Aqua Teen Hunger Force is plenty funny, but at feature length (even just 79 minutes) the cartoon's absurd comedy drags. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (thanks, Borat) falls into the same pattern that many stoner shorts do when adapted for the screen: a flimsy, episode-worthy plot is stretched out and filled in with flashbacks and digressions.
The Aqua Teens are a Freudian value meal consisting of super-ego Frylock, a paternal, scientifically minded box of french fries; lazy and selfish id Master Shake; and the self-interested but considerate ego Meatwad. Together, they don't necessarily fight crime, but they regularly triumph in just barely extricating themselves from their own messes.
The film attempts to delve into the characters' origins, first through a story told by Shake involving a sphinx, a giant poodle, and a time-traveling Abe Lincoln. Frylock dismisses that as a lie, and the characters abandon the origin-story business in favor of assembling an exercise machine called the Insan-o-flex that Shake has stolen from their neighbor Carl. This exercise machine serves as the movie's main antagonist, although beloved Aqua Teen villains such as Dr. Weird, the Mooninites, the Plutonians, MC Pee Pants, and the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future all make appearances. Things climax with a paternity-questioning battle between Frylock and Dr. Weird and a life-saving intervention by Rush's Neil Peart.
It's not an unfunny film, especially if you're a fan of the show, but it's not quite as satisfying as it would be to simply watch seven new episodes back-to-back. Stoned, of course. ERIC GRANDY
dir. James Foley
Okay, this movie was wholly unremarkable, so I'm going to spice up this here review by replaying the film as what it should've been. Imagine the exact same fucked-up plot—full of twists, secrets, and Victoria's Secret models—but as played out by the characters from the '80s sitcom Perfect Strangers, starring Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker, because Halle Berry annoys me and Bruce Willis creeps me out. (Giovanini Ribisi, however, is adorable and I'd like to kiss him.)
So, in this new and improved version of Perfect Strangers, curly-haired Cousin Larry will play Bruce Willis's character, a conniving and cheating advertising bigwig. Giovanni Ribisi's character, a sarcastic but seemingly sweet computer geek, will be replaced with Balki. And Halle Berry's character, a big-balled big-city journalist, will be played by special guest star Tootie, from The Facts of Life.
So it all starts when a childhood friend of Tootie's pays a surprise visit to deliver a stack of scandalous and sexy e-mails. The e-mails are evidence that Tootie's friend has been sleepin' around with Cousin Larry, who is famous, wealthy, and married, and she hopes that Tootie, being the journalist that she is, will print the e-mails and prove Cousin Larry is a bastard. Well, not surprisingly, little Miss Sleeps with Married Men turns up dead just days after she tells Tootie about the affair. Go figure.
Tootie is convinced that it was Cousin Larry who killed the poor girl in an attempt to save his secret. Problem is, Tootie doesn't have enough evidence to prove it, so she enlists the help of Balki (a longtime friend and co-worker who has a crush on Tootie) and the two of them do everything in their power to prove that he was indeed the man responsible for Tootie's childhood friend's murder.
What you don't expect is that Tootie and Balki have a few creepy secrets of their own. And the previews don't lie when they tell you that you'll never guess the ending, because you won't. But I promise it'll be a lot more entertaining if when you go, you imagine Tootie, Balki, and Cousin Larry instead of the stooges they actually cast. MEGAN SELING
Wild Tigers I Have Known
dir. Cam Archer
Normally, when you watch a gay coming-of-age tale loaded with clichés like the boy who smears on a lurid clown mouth with his mom's lipstick, you know exactly how you're supposed to respond. The boy looks painfully sweet and in need of guidance. His story is sad, his treatment unfair. Even the more traumatic examples of the genre leave you wanting to hug the kid, or save him. These movies are meant to uncork fountains of sympathy; they're the sentimental Uncle Tom's Cabins of our day. And that sympathy, which is really benign condescension, holds you at an intentional distance: You may be gay like the protagonist, but under no circumstances should you want to touch his damp skin or bury your face in a dark pile of his hair.
These unwritten guidelines were wrung out a little by Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation, whose voyeuristic camera operator was often a prepubescent version of the director himself. And now they've been trampled by writer-director Cam Archer, whose only excuse for eroticizing a young-looking 14-year-old is that Archer is relatively young (24 at the time of production). Wild Tigers I Have Known is a color-drenched erotic dream, where the lithe limbs of children wrestle and tense and lie slack while a sultry pop soundtrack (featuring an uncanny Cat Power mimic named Emily Jane White) washes over them. It was no surprise to find out that Archer started his search for actors with the casting binder left over from Larry Clark's last film.
There's hardly any story, and what narrative there is doesn't concern itself with credibility. Logan (Malcolm Stumpf) is a dreamy, awkward boy in an era that mostly resembles the present day but is inexplicably equipped with rotary phones. His mother is very young and his only friend is a white-blond nerd. After an uncomfortable counseling session, Logan meets a hunky ninth-grader named Rodeo (as in Drive). Logan calls Rodeo, pretending to be Leah (an adult woman supplies the voiceover here), and coaxes him into a lively round of phone sex. Meanwhile, in an echo of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady, the young Logan begins to overidentify with the dangerous mountain lion that has lately been encroaching on school grounds.
In the end, Wild Tigers I Have Known is fashion, not film. The mountain lion isn't a potent symbol; it's a prop. And whatever emotions the film evokes are secondary to the camera's hungry swipes across the unformed body and lush lips of its star. ANNIE WAGNER
dir. Paul Verhoeven
In spite of his international notoriety, Paul Verhoeven is one of the few foreign directors who entered and left Hollywood with commercial success and artistic vision intact. Those who relished the cheap thrill that was The Fourth Man would not likely consider Basic Instinct and Showgirls disappointments.
Black Book, Verhoeven's first Dutch film in 23 years, revisits the WWII theme from Soldier of Orange with the sort of borderline exploitative sensationalism we've come to expect. Its glamorous and gutsy Jewish heroine Rachel (Carice van Houten) eventually comes out on top, but not without first seeing her parents slaughtered, joining the Dutch resistance, bleaching her pubic hair, infiltrating the Nazi headquarters, and bathing in human refuse.
Although allegedly based on facts uncovered during 40 years of research, Black Book is no history lesson. It's a full-fledged espionage blockbuster that just happens to be set during the Holocaust. And while the twist-a-minute plot is undeniably captivating, the movie also dabbles in moral ambiguity. The Sicherheitsdienst head Ludwig Müntze (Sebastian Koch of The Lives of Others), whom the resistance assigns Rachel to seduce, turns out to be the good German who falls for her. Meanwhile, a few of her supposed allies are threatening to betray their countrymen.
Many viewers will roll their eyes at Verhoeven's sporadic juvenile humor, but Black Book is also epic, old-fashioned, and genuinely moving. It's a bit regrettable that Rachel is a composite of several historical figures and that the director and screenwriter Gerard Soeteman have crammed in so much that actual events are indistinguishable from plot devices. But a kickass Jewish heroine during WWII is no celluloid fantasy, okay? MARTIN TSAI
dir. Marcus Nispel
The most intriguing thing about Pathfinder isn't the story, which is just plain stupid, nor is it the acting, direction, editing, or cinematography. No, the most intriguing thing is how, against all foreseeable odds—or, if not odds, then any and all common sense—it's being released at all. A choppy blur of dreary imagery, ham-fistedness, and inept action, it belongs not in theaters, but in a $9.99 straight-to-DVD bin at Wal-Mart.
That stupid story: 600 years before Columbus, the Viking hordes land on North America itching to claim it as their own. During their first excursion they leave a boy behind—a boy who, after being adopted by a Native-American tribe, grows up to be a beefy (as in the head) dreamboat named Ghost (Karl Urban). Ghost doesn't really fit in, but he's making a go of it, spending his free time practicing with his sword and making googly eyes at a comely lass named Starfire (Moon Bloodgood). Then, to everyone's apparent amazement, the Viking hordes return, looking for blood.
What follows this plot kink is 90 minutes of skeezy slaughter. Ghost, whose sword skills looked to be on par with my own backyard broom handling in the third grade, suddenly turns into an almighty killing machine, ambushing the Vikings with the help of Starfire and a flute-toting mute. Limbs are severed, blood gushes, and Marcus Nispel (previously of the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) films all of it in a gloomy blur. By the time all parties wind up dangling from a cliff, hacking and pounding each other with the threat of an avalanche looming overhead, preposterous is too weak a word. There is B-grade and there is D-grade. Pathfinder is definitely the latter. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams
dir. Jasmila Zbanic
Grbavica is a sturdy, sensitive film about women coping with the aftermath of ethnic cleansing, a film that's probably doomed to the dustbins just for being unpronounceable. Surely it must have occurred to the distributor (Strand Releasing, in one of its ambitious forays into non-gay-themed foreign films) that the title could be translated. But Grbavica, a neighborhood in Sarajevo that housed a prison camp during the Balkan war, means "female hunchback."
And yet Grbavica wears its gruesome history almost lightly, imitating the survival tactics of its protagonist, a Bosnian woman named Esma (Mirjana Karanovic) whose teenage daughter is the product of rape by Serbian captors. Sara (Luna Mijovic), the adorably tomboyish daughter, has been led to believe her father was a war martyr, or "shaheed." Though her mother freezes during heavy roughhousing and panics when she's pushed against barrel-chested men in crowded buses, Sara hasn't an inkling of her mother's real experience during the war. So when Sara's school offers children of war heroes a discount for a school trip and Esma can't produce the martyrdom certificate, the girl becomes angry and confused.
It's difficult to fathom Sara's response to this revelation, and the film maintains a polite distance from her fury. Writer-director Jasmila Zbanic is more interested in the reserve of impossible love a woman like Esma manages to unseal and give to her child. ANNIE WAGNER