dir. Greg Harrison
Countless films have explored the consequences of cheating on a lover. The most powerful of these movies deal with the grave aftermath of the ensuing emotional breakdown—where, even in the outrageousness of, say, a husband killing a homewrecker, there's an identifiable grief that expresses the dismal reality of hurting someone so intimately. November, the latest film from indie director Greg Harrison (Groove), goes beyond telling a story of infidelity; it lingers in the cracks, scars, and violent schisms that can occur with such a personal breach of trust. Harrison accomplishes this by literally creating schisms within the narrative, where, as a viewer, you're left with more ambiguity than answers, more fragments and uncomfortable feelings than safe conclusions.
November stars the very un-Friends-like Courteney Cox as Sophie Jacobs, a conservatively styled photo instructor who lives with her boyfriend Hugh (James LeGros). Into their lives fall a number of traumatic events—an affair, a shooting at a convenience store, jarring mysteries both psychological and criminal in nature. Harrison veers away from presenting easy explanations of even who exactly was shot and by whom, tricking and teasing with a challenging structure that often returns to the same set of scenes with completely different perspectives.
It's within this narrative puzzle that the film's bittersweet beauty lies. Harrison worked under strict guidelines (a $150,00 budget, 15 days, shooting with a mini-DV camera), using the gritty noise of frying fluorescent bulbs and grim, gloomy lighting to set a paranoid tone that reinforces the ominous heart of the film. From there he uses visits with a psychiatrist (Nora Dunn), dinner with an overbearing mother (Anne Archer), a late-night corner store stop, and eerie encounters with photography students and police officers to delve into the literal and metaphorical murder of a lover. As Sophie moves between shattering and rectifying romantic bonds, reality becomes a fleeting nightmare and her panic more oppressive than the understanding of what's at its root. If you can release the need for conventional storytelling, November is a true art film, taking you leagues deeper than most into unsettling realizations that cause your skin to crawl and your mind to race. JENNIFER MAERZ
dir. Ziad Doueiri
What Lila says is, "T'as pas envie de voir ma chatte?," and what she means is, "Want to see my pussy?" Though this come-on is strategically placed at the very beginning of the movie, it's not exactly out of the blue—the daring teen (Vahina Giocante) has just finished telling Chimo, her olive-skinned crush (Mohammed Khouas), that she's "like a Ferrari in the middle of a junkyard." But Chimo is shocked, and more than a little flattered, and as Lila hikes up her skirt and clambers onto a swing, he promptly falls in love.
Lila Says is a film about fantasy. It's packaged accordingly, like a feature-length Victoria's Secret commercial; Giocante's blond hair is always surrounded by a nimbus of soft light, and you can hardly tell if she's pretty or if it's a trick of the camera. There's no question what the slick, zoom-prone cinematography does for the rest of the film—Marseille's outer slums look impossibly alluring. Through an incessant stream of verbal smut, the young Lila spins an elaborate web of fantasy, climaxing with a claim that she's orally serviced the Devil. Her abusive guardian, meanwhile, fantasizes that her charge's visitation might be spiritual rather than symptomatic. And the thuggish neighborhood boys imagine that Lila is a slut just begging to be banged.
Things go horribly wrong when you realize that Chimo's equally self-serving (though far less violent) fantasy about the girl next door is identical to the fantasy maintained by the film itself. I held out hope until the very end, but Lila Says gravely disappointed me. Throughout the entire movie, we see what the director thinks about Lila, and we listen to the opinions of every other character, but we never hear what Lila has to say for herself. ANNIE WAGNER
dir. Rob Cohen
The chain of command in Stealth is this: At the very top is a politician, who works in the shadows of a large and gloomy Washington D.C. office; below him a general, who is running a controversial weapons program; then fighter pilots, who are testing this new weapons system. The pilots just want to do their job, to serve and protect their country the best way they know how—in supersonic jets. The general has big ambitions; he wants to leave his mark on military history by transforming the very way war is conducted—without human soldiers, whose main flaw is their humanness. As to what the politician wants, that is a complete mystery, as all that he does is obscured by office shadows, and all that he says is vague and kept at a whisper. That is the structure of power in Stealth.
The hero of the movie is Lt. Ben Gannon (Josh Lucas), a blue-eyed, all-American flyboy. The love interest is a thick-lipped beauty named Kara Wade (Jessica Biel). The Negro sidekick is Henry Purcell (Jamie Foxx). The sidekick is the first (and only one) to go, but the predictable death of the Negro is counterbalanced by the presence of the black general (Joe Morton)—a common solution in TV cop shows, where the man or woman near to the top of power is often black, thereby justifying or absolving police actions that are in reality racist.
The death of the Negro in Stealth has much in common with the death of John Henry in American myth. But to go into all of that is to make this movie more interesting than it actually is. CHARLES MUDEDE
The Beat That My Heart Skipped
dir. Jacques Audiard
In updating James Toback's 1978 debut Fingers, where Harvey Keitel played a second-generation New York gangster who would rather be a concert pianist, French director Jacques Audiard moves the story to Paris and changes the line of work to a thug for a shady real-estate developer. Which means he hasn't changed much at all in terms of story.
Tom (a smoldering Romain Duris) is caught between the lowbrow masculine world of his father and the highbrow feminine world of his late mother. When his mother was alive he showed great promise tickling the ivories, but when she died he threw himself into techno music and his dad's line of work. When he sees a man from his mother's world, a more respectable father figure, he gets himself an audition and starts practicing so much that his thug work starts to suffer, as does his affair with his colleague's wife.
Helping him get ready for the audition is a Vietnamese piano instructor who doesn't speak a lick of French. She harnesses the discipline and drive he needs to become a concert pianist, but at the same time his father and business associates keep dragging him down and it becomes clear he cannot straddle both worlds. Both suspenseful and musical, The Beat That My Heart Skipped should appeal to fans of gangster movies and classical music alike. ANDY SPLETZER
dir. Mike Mitchell
In a surprisingly clever way, Sky High comments on the retarded idiosyncrasies that happen during everyone's awkward high-school years. This time, though, it's made even more awkward with the addition of villains and earth-threatening power tools.
You see, Sky High is a high school for superheroes that, due to an anti-gravity device, is suspended up in... wait for it... the sky! All the superhero kids go to the school in order to learn how to use their powers and become earth-saving superstars. But not every kid has a fancypants power like making fire and growing plants and shit. Some kids can only do worthless crap like glow in the dark and transform into guinea pigs. These rejects are known as "hero support," i.e., sidekicks. Being a sidekick is for LO-SERS, but the latest to join Team Sidekick is none other than Will Stronghold, son of the world's two most beloved heroes, the Commander and Jetstream.
No one expected little Will to be a sidekick, not with the two most powerful parents in the world. But, alas, he can't even bench-press 50 pounds, let alone save the world—what a geek! Anyway, he ends up falling for the most popular girl in school and crushing the heart of his childhood friend (who is PERFECT for him). If that's not enough, he soon gets his powers but ends up turning his back on all the sidekicks! Even though he's a superhero boy, he's still a boy, and boys are jerks like that.
But wait! His new girlfriend has a secret, a dirty one—and no it's not syphilis. Will he be able to learn from his mistakes before it's too late? Or will his inability to be a decent human end up destroying the entire superhero world? Surprisingly, finding out isn't nearly as painful as you'd expect. MEGAN SELING