dir. George Hickenlooper
A biopic about Andy Warhol's "superstar" Edie Sedgwick, Factory Girl has endured a journey almost as turbulent as its subject's. It's been a gossip-column fixture, beleaguered with lawsuits, last-minute reshoots, and a minor furor over Sienna Miller and Hayden Christensen's allegedly nonsimulated sex scene. The film itself isn't nearly as lurid as the hubbub would suggest. Its by-the-numbers staging of Sedgwick's life events is devoid of any historical and emotional context, as if the whole point were to propose that she and Warhol were the Paris Hilton and Perez Hilton of their day.
Factory Girl presents Sedgwick (Miller) as an heiress/socialite-cum-celebrity gone wild, and Warhol (Guy Pearce) as a petty, stuck-up, freeloading famewhore. Jealousy quickly puts their fair-weather bond to the test when Sedgwick meets a harmonica-strapped folk singer (Christensen), listed as "musician" in the credits because the star of Don't Look Back threatened to sue.
Screenwriter Captain Mauzner reductively attributes Sedgwick's fondness of Warhol to her family dysfunction, while also playing fast and loose with the facts in order to contrive a showdown between good and evil as respectively embodied by Bob Dylan and Warhol. The film ventures further into E! True Hollywood Story territory with director George Hickenlooper's gratuitous split screens and switching between color and black and white. He seems less interested in exploring Sedgwick's fatal descent into drug addiction than exposing Warhol as a user and a fraud. In one lame sight gag, we get a glimpse of Warhol's mother's cupboard: It's full of Campbell's soup. MARTIN TSAI
The Guatemalan Handshake
dir. Todd Rohal
The toast of Slamdance in 2006, The Guatemalan Handshake is an indie movie with all the Park City–certified quirk you can handle. The good part: Will Oldham, the obscenely multitalented musician who proved his acting chops in movies like Old Joy and Junebug, stars as Donald, a vacant-eyed, slack-jawed lover of turtles. The bad part: Donald flees the scene a quarter hour into the movie. We're left with Donald's ex, Sadie (Sheila Scullin), a pretty, pregnant redhead who's determined to win a demolition derby; Donald's father, Mr. Turnupseed (Ken Byrnes), who's kinda crotchety; Sadie's manic, purportedly Guatemalan father (Bulgarian dancer Ivan Dimitrov); sweaty Stool (Rich Schreiber), a guy who wants to get up in Sadie's grill; and Turkeylegs (Katy Haywood), a 10-year-old girl who hangs around.
There is no plot. You will be able to tell if you'll enjoy The Guatemalan Handshake if the following list makes you tingle: demolition derbies, roller skating, nuclear cooling towers, electric cars, roving bands of Boy Scouts, suicidal stunt dives, lactose intolerance, baton twirling, lost-dog posters, and great Pennsylvania locations. It's like Napoleon Dynamite with maybe half as many laughs, or Wes Anderson if a tiny little hole were drilled through his frontal lobe. If that isn't enough to draw you in, there are plenty of exquisitely fashioned hooks to capture the right crowd: cult favorite Cory McAbee of The American Astronaut plays the stunt diver; the leads perform a song by the Moldy Peaches. But it's all marketing—and there isn't very much movie to show for it. ANNIE WAGNER
Flock of Dodos
dir. Randy Olson
Flock of Dodos is a documentary about the grindingly serious, ongoing battle between science educators and proponents of intelligent design. Though each side has its well of popular support, the terms of the debate are technical, legalistic, and cynical. (At root, "intelligent design theory" is a legal strategy—piggybacked on friendly academics like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe—intended tbts about "neo-Darwinism" without running aground of the Supreme Court's proscription against teaching creationism in the public schools.) Director Randy Olson seems to have concluded that such a grim battlefield could use some levity. Thus, the dodos.
Olson's semiautobiographical movie imagines partisans on either side of the debate as ridiculous animated orange birds, which pop up every once in a while to mock the IDers (for being mired in a feeble "God in the gaps" theology) and the "evolutionists" (for failing to adapt to the era of sound bites and PR firms). But it's hardly equal-opportunity ridicule. Olson's background is in marine biology, and while he drubs the scientists for being arrogant and dull, the IDers get it much worse. Connie Morris, a former member of the Kansas school board, is clueless about evolutionary theory and she's clearly a flirt, but was it really necessary to time an audible chime to her conspiratorial wink? Friendly onscreen demeanor notwithstanding, Olson the filmmaker can be a real ass.
As an introduction to the latest round of creationist propaganda, Flock of Dodos is plenty entertaining. And it's great that it's being shown in Pacific Science Center's IMAX theater, where you'll be hard-pressed to find an educational film containing the word "evolution" made after the Bible belt spurned 2003's Volcanoes of the Deep Sea. But you'll have to wait if you want a serious, investigative doc that gets into the bowels of the Discovery Institute. ANNIE WAGNER
dir. Katharina Otto-Bernstein
Born the stuttering gay son of the mayor of Waco, Texas, Robert Wilson transformed himself, by force of will and imagination, into one of the world's premier avant-garde theatermakers—the mastermind behind such epochal works as Einstein on the Beach (his 1976 collaboration with Philip Glass). His quixotic quest is charted with unprecedented detail in Absolute Wilson, Katharina Otto-Bernstein's loving documentary portrait, which finds the famously reticent Wilson, now sixtysomething, telling his story in his own words.
After years spent struggling with speech and comprehension, young Robert receives some invaluable advice from his sister's ballet teacher, whose words not only help him overcome his speech and learning impediments, but also serve as a lifelong aesthetic directive: "Slow it down." Absolute Wilson tracks the several decades of work enabled and informed by this directive, from Wilson's first job in New York (working as a hospital intern, he staged "performances" by patients in iron lungs) to his abstract performance triumphs in theaters and opera houses around the world. Along the way come the groundbreaking collaborations—most notably, Wilson's invaluable alliance with Raymond Andrews, the deaf-mute boy he adopts in 1968 and casts in the "silent opera" Deafman Glance—and the large-scale failures: The conception, frenzied buildup, and eventual abortion of Wilson's would-be 1984 Olympics extravaganza the CIVIL warS give the film its most suspenseful sequence.
The inevitable hole in Absolute Wilson comes from the inherent limitations of representing Wilson's work on film. With his long, slow, sound-and-light-and-movement extravaganzas reduced to still photos and YouTube-length video clips, "proof" of Wilson's brilliance comes primarily from the film's parade of talking heads, with folks from Susan Sontag to David Byrne to Jessye Norman weighing in with praise. Still, even the most workmanlike portrait of an artist this singular is worth paying money to see. DAVID SCHMADER
Breaking and Entering
dir. Anthony Minghella
You get the sense watching Breaking and Entering that Anthony Minghella thinks he's written and directed something steely and powerful, but what he's made is drawn out, pedestrian, and trite. The opening shot is of Jude Law and Robin Wright Penn sitting silently in a car, their faces obscured by London's reflection in the windshield. This is supposed to tell us that the city has come between them, and that we (the audience) will never be as close to them (the characters) as we might like to be (there's glass in the way). You know—you can never truly know someone. Has that ever occurred to you?
Minghella loves symbols. A computer-animated fox reminds us of the absence of the natural world in King's Cross, even after this absence has been well established through dialogue. Penn's "sunbox," which she uses to deal with depression, double underlines her coldness. We're even treated to an identical windshield shot later in the movie, when Minghella needs to establish the growing distance between Law and Juliette Binoche.
The plot is forgettable, but basically: Law plays a workaholic architect, Penn plays his girlfriend of 10 years, and Binoche plays the immigrant mother of a hoodlum who breaks into Law's architecture firm and steals a bunch of stuff. Law catches the hoodlum but can't bring himself to turn him in because he's secretly fallen for Binoche. And because of some kind of darkness within himself (it's never made clear—fascinating!) that makes him sympathetic to hoodlums. The hoodlum is played by Rafi Gavron in his onscreen debut. He's the only actor in the movie who never seems actorly. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE