Over Her Dead Body
dir. Jeff Lowell
Goddamn, it's hard to watch Paul Rudd pay the bills. Sure, he's handsome and charming enough to play the leading man in some lame romantic comedy, but he's better when he's skewering that leading-man potential in farces like Wet Hot American Summer or Strangers with Candy. He's smart. He's funny. He's too good for this shit.
Rudd plays Henry, a grumpy but good-hearted veterinarian whose fiancée, Kate (Eva Longoria Parker), is crushed to death by an ice-sculpture angel (the ice sculpture and Longoria Parker have roughly the same warmth and dramatic range). Henry falls for Ashley (Lake Bell), a part-time psychic (and part-time caterer) hired by his sister (Lindsay Sloane) to help him get over Kate. Kate comes back as a ghost, determined to keep them apart.
The film is a graveyard for half-funny clichés: Cat ladies are ca-razay, people talking on cell phones in restaurants are so annoying, David Foster Wallace is impossible to read, farts are freaking hilarious! At one point, Rudd is forced to declare, "Best. Day. Ever," like he's 10 years deep in syndication on Fox.
Elsewhere, scenes are padded with standard-issue slapstick: Rudd's veterinary assistants fumble trying to hoist a big dog; Ashley's gay friend bumbles around the kitchen, burning himself then dousing himself with boiling water then sliding around on the floor; Ashley splatters a couple gallons of mustard all over herself at a hot-dog stand; a flambé goes atomic at a wedding, cartoonishly singeing Ashley's face.
Against all this mediocrity, Rudd still occasionally manages a great, deadpan comic turn (when the mustard explodes all over Ashley, for instance, he calmly dabs his hot dog into the mess and takes a bite), and Sloane is cute as his airhead sister, but it's not enough to keep this movie alive. ERIC GRANDY
The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun
dir. Pernille Rose Grønkjær
This 84-minute documentary (which took six years to make) is about a cranky octogenarian, Jorgen Lauersen Vig, and a young, no-nonsense nun, Sister Ambrosija. The crank is Danish; the nun is Russian. What brings them together is the Dane's decision to donate his dilapidated castle to the Russian Orthodox Church. It is something he has wanted to do all his life—to turn his property, which he bought for nothing 50 or so years before and is now worth a fortune, into a sanctuary for prayer and spiritual meditation. The church, which is based in Moscow, sends three nuns to inspect the castle. They arrive; they meet lonely Vig; they see the huge amount of work his property needs; they see a golden opportunity. The church accepts the castle, and Sister Ambrosija moves in and begins to make big plans for its restoration and management by her church.
The sister has the will of an "insect woman" in the Imamurian sense; meaning, she is a force of life, a force that is young and hungry, a force that will devour the old and dying to survive. The sister's eyes never rest; even when praying, her mind is working, thinking about the castle. Soon, Vig regrets his decision and tries to weaken her grip on his property. Sister Ambrosija, however, refuses to let go. Vig and the nun begin a struggle that only life can win.
The documentary would have been perfect if it were not shot so poorly. The 16 mm camera fails to capture the beauty of the crumbling castle, the surrounding countryside, and Sister Ambrosija's youth. Instead, it turns a profound situation (the fall of an ancient man, the rise of a fresh-faced woman) into something that has the cheap look of a reality show. The cinematography drains all of the poetry out of the twilight setting and the strange and sad story. CHARLES MUDEDE
dir. Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman
This well-meaning, somewhat-clunky documentary recounts the six horrendous weeks beginning in December 1937 when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded the city of Nanking, then China's capital. The sheer numbers in play are staggering: an estimated 200,000 civilians killed, 20,000 raped during the occupation. "The Rape of Nanking" is how it's often referred to, and there's no doubting its place high on the list of modern humanity's horrors.
Obviously, tackling such a bleak topic risks pummeling an audience with despair. And despair is definitely on offer. There's the man who watched a "Japanese devil" stab his nursing mother repeatedly. An account of a truck filled with young women screaming "save me!" Footage of a man in the hospital after he had been shot through the jaw, doused with gasoline, and lit on fire. On and on the horrors go, each recounting effectively burning itself into your memory.
Perhaps to temper some of this overwhelming bleakness, directors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman have turned to actors to perform journal entries and correspondence of real-life Westerners who tried to carve out a safety zone amid the chaos. But while names such as Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemingway, and Stephen Dorff may help nab attention, their presence proves to be Nanking's weakest element. So sobering are the tales from survivors, so miserable is the footage of the invasion, that cutting back to familiar faces is distracting. Still, this is a minor complaint—on the whole, Nanking is effective, infuriating viewing. BRADLEY STEINBACHER