dir. Omar Naim
Opens Fri Oct 15.
You really have to give this movie credit: Of all the films in the last five years (to say nothing of the last five months) to offer a vaguely sci-fi/horror treatment of human memory obsession, The Final Cut's idea trumps them all. An organic chip (called ZOE) is implanted in your brain when you are an unborn fetus, where it attaches to your nerve centers and records every second of every hour of every day of your life. Then, when you die, your chip is turned over to a "cutter," who edits your story into a narrative that will not upset your survivors when they view it at your--not funeral, but "rememory."
The notion of such a technology is thrilling, not least because unlike the telepathic alien surgery scenarios that have motorized the memory-scare genre up to now, the ZOE chip seems oddly plausible. And the idea that an editor would be put in charge of making your life add up to something concise, according to a family's wishes, is all too frighteningly right on the money. Unfortunately, because this film owes a duty to its genre, the "sci" dominates "fi," and the second half becomes a thudding, crypto-ethical quandary that adds up to little more than an inner-child healing session for star Robin Williams. On the plus side, Williams is excellent in this movie, mainly because he finally seems to have mastered the art of blandness. He channels Gene Hackman's Harry Caul from The Conversation (his character's last name is even Hakman) and lets the conceit do all the work. Too bad the screenwriter couldn't come up with a framework that does the same thing. SEAN NELSON
dir. Curtiss Clayton
Opens Fri Oct 15
There are many reasons why I wanted to like this movie. I've heard great things about Daniel Handler's series of literate Lemony Snicket children's books--which have been turned into a Jim Carrey movie--so I wanted to see what he would do as a straight-up screenwriter. The story is based on Rigoletto, and though I'm not all that familiar with opera, I do respect it. I like Bill Pullman and appreciate it when he goes in odd directions, like he did with Lost Highway. It's only too bad the movie is terrible.
The trouble is directly related to its script. Not the story, mind you, but the script. The story is about a man on a corporate treadmill who makes a deal with the devil to kill his boss, but the plan backfires and he ends up losing that which he holds most dear. The script, on the other hand, reads like bad theater, where characters talk in ambiguous half-sentences that are supposed to evoke a familiarity between each other. It's the kind of over-stylized dialogue that works a whole lot better onstage than it does in the movies.
For his part, Pullman throws himself into the role of the aging adolescent corporate player whose boss (Aaron Stanford) happens to be half his age. Dylan Baker shows up as a hit man who, in offering to put a contract out on Pullman's boss, makes him realize he's hit the ceiling of his job. Meanwhile, his daughter has been indulging in chat-room sex talk with anonymous men, one of whom turns out to be the young boss. Pullman's character is nearly humanized when he starts to come to terms with the feelings he still has for his late wife, but then the Christmas party happens and the movie wraps up in its own predictable way. ANDY SPLETZER
Around the Bend
dir. Jordon Robert
Opens Fri Oct 15.
In this totally horrible movie, Michael Caine plays the father to Christopher Walken, who plays the father to Josh Lucas, who plays the father to Johan Bobo. These are the Lair men; there are no Lair women. There is, however, a pretty and mindless European maid, whose favors are enjoyed by the two eldest Lairs. The father of the youngest Lair, Lucas, has a limp. He believes he got it from a car accident that occurred shortly after his father abandoned his family. The second oldest Lair, Walken, is supposed to be doing hard time when he suddenly appears at the door of his father's house. Pleased by the return of the prodigal son, Caine takes his boys out to dinner. A few days later, Caine dies, and leaves a will that instructs his boys to search for the truth of the Lair men. You see, as with all Freudian families, there is a dark founding moment, a totally wicked root of an event that poisons the Lair tree. This is what the ur-father wants his boys to find and deracinate. At this point, Around the Bend changes from a family drama into a road movie that heads towards a dismal revelation. CHARLES MUDEDE
dir. Ondrej Trojan
Opens Fri Oct 15.
One of the most painful ironies of the 20th century is that things in Eastern Europe didn't get truly horrendous until after the Nazis were defeated. That irony is front and center throughout this slow but compelling Czech drama, set in World War II, primarily because the characters spend most of their time waiting for the bad news--be it German, Russian, or natural--to show up and spoil an idyllic village. Zelary is the name of a remote country hamlet in 1940s Czechoslovakia, where time evidently stopped at some point around the First World War. Thanks to a fluke of engineering, the road favored by the advancing armies passes around the wee town, leaving its inhabitants with some temporary claim to a sense of security. Of course, it's a false one, but not so false as to temper the bucolic splendor of the village or the colorful crankiness of the locals.
Meanwhile, back in Prague, a sexy, cosmopolitan resistance group is compromised, forcing one of its main resisters, a fetching nurse named Eliska, to flee the city, change her name, and take up residence in Zelary. This wouldn't be so bad except that in order to be accepted there, not only among the locals, but also among the police (it's not like the Nazis don't know about the town, they just don't bother terrorizing it; that job is left to the Stalinist liberating army), she has to get married to a villager. The way Eliska--now called Hana--slowly withers in the face of her fate is a beautifully modern dilemma; a professional woman from the city must retreat to the countryside and adopt the traditional (read: powerless) life of a peasant girl, and all because of her political convictions. This conflict, along with the delicate courtship of Hana's sweet, clumsy husband of convenience, humanizes Zelary's social backdrop, and elevates what could have been a morose memory play into a highly engaging emotional history. SEAN NELSON