We Don't Live Here Anymore
dir. John Curran
Opens Fri Aug 20.

If I were in charge of Hollywood, this movie would be called Still Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and not just because this dirge about the shallow moral lives of two partner-swapping New England academic couples feels like an update of Edward Albee's masterpiece. It's that the film has almost no sense of humor, and could really use one.

Mark Ruffalo is married to Laura Dern, but he's having an affair with Naomi Watts, who is married to Peter Krause (Nate from Six Feet Under), who sleeps with anyone he can, and Laura Dern in particular. Ruffalo and Krause are writers who teach writing at a small liberal arts college; they are also narcissistic, selfish, and horrible to their spouses and to each other, even though they're best friends. The two couples spend a lot of time together, getting drunk and flirting, and generally acting like people who never grew up, despite the presence of an ever-growing number of slow-eyed, lonely kids. (It's to the film's credit that none of these kids has to die in order to wise the characters up, but the shadow of youth imperiled by parental neglect is present throughout; it's easy to picture the kids growing up fat and needy.)

There are some nice moves along the way, of course, most of them provided by the world-class acting. The way Ruffalo and Watts register the awkwardness creeping into their passionate exchanges as the affair passes from hot-blooded whim to cold calculation, the way Dern challenges Ruffalo to look at her when they have sex, the way Krause pretends to be free and easygoing even as he feels himself getting too old for the pose--these are powerful and intense scenes from crumbling lives. The problem is that the film that contains them doesn't stop to let any light in. It's all so dour and gray and awful. If life were like that, suicide would be as common as jogging. The movie is two-thirds over before anyone says anything honest, which is laudable, and maybe even realistic, but it's an absolute bummer to watch. Even George and Martha had some laughs. SEAN NELSON

Seducing Dr. Lewis
dir. Jean-Franÿois Pouliot
Opens Fri Aug 20.

Seducing Dr. Lewis is about a tiny fishing town, St. Marie-La-Mauderne, that has been hit by the hardest of times. The 120 Québecois who call this place home are mostly ugly and surviving on welfare checks that are handed to them by the only beautiful woman in town, a dreamy postal clerk. St. Marie-La-Mauderne, like the people it contains, is ugly, and the sea that surrounds it does not inspire love or dreams but lassitude and sour sensations in the back of one's mouth. You want to get the hell out of this film world, but the people inside of it want to stay, and the only way they can continue to stay is if a certain company establishes a factory in St. Marie-La-Mauderne, and the only way this company will open this much-needed factory is if St. Marie-La-Mauderne gets a full-time doctor, and apparently all of the doctors in Montreal and other parts of Quebec are of one mind: To live in St. Marie-La-Mauderne is to live in hell. But this is precisely what the director, Jean-François Pouliot, wanted to show: A town whose condition is so dreadful that its attempts to trick a hip young doctor, David Boutin, into staying seems totally absurd. And it is here, at this very point, that one is supposed to find and enjoy the comedy--in the absurdity of it all. But the comedy is not there. You look hard but can only see shabby fish-folk who probably smell and snore as they sleep in this horribly hopeless town. It would be better for us in the audience if those on the screen gave up on St. Marie-La-Mauderne and moved out to Montreal, which is a wonderful city with lots of beautiful people. CHARLES MUDEDE

My Sister Maria
dir. Maximilian Schell
Fri-Sun Aug 20-22 at the Varsity.

The authentic title of this film is Meine Schwester Maria, which, given the film's subject, seems a better fit. The beauty of the German language is its ability to be both coarse and romantic at the same time--coarse to our tin American ears; romantic when not being barked into that tin--and both adjectives fit the actress Maria Schell well. Her composure infused the postwar German rubble with the promise of a national rebirth. Her wildness, buried beneath that composure, occasionally achieved a glow bright enough to crack through her exterior. And she was a fox--unconventional, to be sure, and somewhat dangerous. Wild-eyed but impeccably controlled, she captured your attention--she was indeed a star.

And now she is slowly leaving her body, her mind having been hijacked by old age, living out her remaining years in Austria. It is there that her brother, the actor Maximilian Schell, treks in an attempt to try and capture her for My Sister Maria, a heartbreaking, occasionally bitter documentary about the life, career, and decline of the woman who was once Germany's pride. Using an interesting (though not always entirely successful) mix of archival footage and dramatization, Schell has not only attempted to celebrate Maria, but has tried to understand her as well, hoping that the mysteries in their relationship will eventually reveal answers. That they don't should be of little concern to us in the audience, though--simply taking in Maria Schell's life offers more than enough substance. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

Father & Son
dir. Aleksandr Sokurov
Fri-Sun Aug 20-22 at the Varsity.

No matter what director Sokurov says, and no matter what America's top critics may write, his film is not about a close relationship between a father and son, but between two lovers who live in a dreamy apartment that is filled with the somber music of Tchaikovsky. Andrei Shchetinin, who plays the father, is not that much older than Aleksei Nejmyshev, who plays the son, and both have bodies that have been shaped by the hands of God--perfect necks, shoulders, chests, tummies, waists, and torsos. The movie opens with their bodies lost in the maze of a fuck. After every little drop of passion has been extracted and spent, the older man asks the younger man where his thoughts are at that very moment (a pleasant post-coital question). The younger man answers that they're in the middle of somewhere pretty and peaceful (a pleasant post-coital response). Later, the two are at a military school, where the younger man is learning medicine and fighting methods. The older man, who was once a soldier, spends the morning watching the younger man practice man-to-man combat moves with other young men. There is a woman in this soft-focused picture; she once dated the younger man but left him for another, older man. Both she and her ex are presently seeing older men. Father & Son was shot in the sleepy city of Lisbon, and the most eventful (and important) episode in this very slow but short movie involves the younger man and his handsome friend going on an afternoon city trip. They walk down a small street, catch a red-colored tram, and visit a park that has a hill that holds at its top a commanding view of the city and the sea. The young men look at the city, and then at each other--love is in the air. CHARLES MUDEDE

Without a Paddle
dir. Steven Brill
Opens Fri Aug 20.

Without a Paddle is bad. Really bad. Terrible. Thoroughly derivative and unfunny, and obviously conceived at every step of production as nothing more than a cynical stab at key demographics. The only reason the filmmakers could find for having three wacky, opposite best friends (the cool friend--he's a surfer!--is played by a very game Matthew Lillard; the nerdy hypochondriac friend is played by Seth Green; I've never heard of the guy who plays the wild but lovable friend) get lost in the woods is this: When they were kids, they made a pact to find the lost treasure of D. B. Cooper, and when a fourth friend dies, the surviving three decide to honor his memory by fulfilling that secret pact.

There are about enough effective or partially effective jokes to fill a standard two-minute trailer, although some of those were stolen from other movies. The angry hillbillies who chase the lost urbanites are pot farmers and, yes, their dog does get high (accidentally, of course). In order to work in some sort of sex, the boys have to hide out with tree-hugger clichés that are beyond even what you'd find on late-night sketch-comedy shows. See, these very cleavage-y women have hairy legs (always a great gag) and get all spiritual with the trees and all that. Plus they store their shit in paper bags--so as not to harm Mother Earth--and throw it at the pot farmers when they come looking for the boys.

If this sounds funny to you, I'm sorry to say that you'll probably like the movie. The only redeemable aspect of the movie to me was Seth Green (and, I guess, Burt Reynolds in a half-assed homage of a cameo), who's always good, no matter how towering a pile of shit the movie might be. ADAM HART

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