dir. Peter Howitt
Opens Fri April 30.
With a sensibility that seems to have been only marginally updated since the 1950s, and a plot so familiar you could sing along if you wanted to, Laws of Attraction is unoriginal, untroubling fluff of the highest order. Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan play rival divorce attorneys who just don't see they love each other--until finally they do. Moore is the uptight spinster who learns how lonely she is without a man, and Pierce Brosnan is, well, Pierce Brosnan, except this time his wardrobe is mostly striped and unironed. The computer that developed this story is probably now out of date and sitting in a landfill somewhere, but the studio people got exactly what they wanted out of it. The film hits all expected plot points precisely on cue, with just enough of a twist to satisfy everyone who's seen this movie before, perhaps edited for television on Lifetime: There's the drunken meeting at point A, the near reconciliation at point B, the change to an exotic locale with adorable locals at point C, etc. Surprisingly enough, however, the dialogue is truly fantastic, sharper and more clever than anyone has any business expecting from this movie. The whole film carries a pleasant atmosphere of absurdity, with the filmmakers retaining their sense of the ridiculous without devolving into kitsch. Unfortunately, the director's delicate touch with his actors is almost negated by his ham-handed approach to everything else. The real reason to see this movie is Moore. As painful as it is to see her once again embody the ideal woman of the '50s (this time in contemporary drag), her role here is something of a revelation. She's been wonderful in just about everything she's done, but here, where she's visibly enjoying herself, she is a pure joy to watch. ADAM HART
How to Draw a Bunny
dir. John W. Walter
Plays Fri-Thurs April 30-May 6 at the Little Theatre.
The artist as a character in a film (not to mention in actual life) has become such a parade of useless, dull, pretentious clichés that you almost don't recognize the real thing when it comes along. So you might be excused for not recognizing Ray Johnson if you were at that Long Island yard party when he showed up with a cameraman and proceeded to drone on about his art like every boring performance artist you've ever met.
But Johnson is the real thing, which you slowly come to realize as you watch this amazing documentary. His work dealt in the funny, shifting margin between art and life, the one perfectly embodied in the series of collages Johnson made with Lucky Strike packs and magazine images (why the art patrons at Lucky Strike haven't made use of this is beyond me but, I suppose, also a relief) and mailed to a friend in exchange for the haikus the friend wrote every morning as he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. Or in how he badgered his collectors with detailed outlines for complicated transactions, for works he would continue to alter, with a new price after every alteration. Or in frustrating his dealer with a proposal to mount a gallery show of "nothing" ("We could do nothing if we were downtown," his dealer says dryly, "but uptown we can't do nothing"). Johnson lived art--every transaction was included in this definition, up to and possibly including his death in 1995.
John W. Walter's film includes interviews with Johnson's famous contemporaries and acquaintances--James Rosenquist, Christo, Morton Janklow, Billy Name--all of whom have stories about the idiosyncratic Johnson, all of which stories both do and don't add up to a whole. He remains elusive, but grows more fascinating with each tale--with how he discovered the loophole in MoMA's collecting policy, for example. This is a self-portrait that Johnson would have loved: oddball, indirect, suspicious, and sublime. EMILY HALL
dir. David Mackenzie
Opens Fri April 30.
Much of the driving force in the new Ewan McGregor drama Young Adam hinges not on seeing McGregor's modestly-sized penis or his frustrated, unquenchable kinkiness (both of which lend this movie its NC-17 rating), but on what should be guilty erotic excitement surrounding nearly every sexual coupling in the film. Set near Glasgow some time after World War II, the movie follows Joe (McGregor), a James Dean-esque character smoldering with secrets and sexual desire, through his tangled life as a coal merchant. He starts the film working for a couple, Ella and Les (a ragged-looking Tilda Swinton and Peter Mullan), in their cramped barge/home with their young son, doing a hard day's labor without any outlets to let off steam, as it were. With all the claustrophobic shots of the confines in which the four live (scenes set in bedroom quarters the size of broom closets, giving every action a dark foreshadowing of a looming reaction) you know it's only a matter of time before libidos flare and the living/working structure they've all set up catches fire.
The compression of desire, enhanced by wanting badly what one can't have and then taking it anyway, makes for some incredibly hot sex scenes--if only Swinton didn't look like such a wilted weed the whole time. But the real problem is that Young Adam (based on the book by Alexander Trocchi) builds up a steamy focal point for the movie, only to shift to something broader that never seems to pull the same weight. The other narrative strand stems from a woman's dead body Joe and Les pull from the river, one that may be connected back to one of them. As the story further unfolds, Joe comes across as a man constantly getting himself into guilty encounters (humiliating one girlfriend, cheating on another), but instead of really examining that coal-like compression of fear, sexual drive, and anxiety, the film just drifts like an observant lens across them, leaving a story that bobs along the surface like the woman's corpse that provides its central mystery. JENNIFER MAERZ