Caché

dir. Michael Haneke

The image that opens Caché, the new movie from writer/director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher), is an exterior shot of a house. The picture is buzzy, precisely detailed but obviously digital, and it feels cold. Nothing happens for so long that you can't help but feel anxious, and it's as if Haneke wanted to extend this sensation throughout the movie, because the expected disruption never comes. Instead, the videotape—for that is what we have been watching—suddenly begins to zip backwards, being rewound and replayed and scrutinized by the Parisian intellectuals Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche), who received the tape in the mail and whose home is the object of surveillance.

Unnerved, Georges and Anne attempt to locate the culprit. When the police determine that videotaping someone's house is not technically a criminal act, Anne is at a loss. But Georges, who has been suffering some nasty, split-second flashbacks, has some theories of his own. A childhood rivalry with a foster brother ended in a horrifying mess of blood-soaked feathers and the other child's expulsion from their idyllic country home. When the adult Georges starts to track down his former rival—who, we learn, was originally orphaned by the 1961 massacre of Algerians in Paris, a source of shame for the French intelligentsia even now—the film demonstrates how easily liberal guilt can mutate back into fear and aggression.

Meanwhile, Haneke fills spare television screens with images of the war in Iraq, and Georges and Anne's touchy teenage son, Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky, with the long hair and face of a melancholic boy-angel), maneuvers his way toward out-and-out rebellion. Caché has all the hallmarks of a simplistic attack on bourgeois values, but it's too political to be dismissed as just another self-immolating Haneke film. Because the politics are focused through a personal prism, it never feels strident. And Caché is genuinely frightening—the plot unfolds with cunning precision, and the violent climax is one of the most shocking experiences you'll have at the movies this year.

Yet Haneke's primary achievement is formal. This movie represents the most conscious use of high-definition digital video I've ever seen. Digital video yields all sorts of associations with memory—ideas about information storage and corruption and retrieval—that the medium of film, with its painterly light and romantic aura, can't hope to approach. (Even the title, pronounced without the accent, refers to information retrieval.) The childhood specters in Caché are not the reveries so often captured on film; they are chilling, discrete packages of fear. ANNIE WAGNER

Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family

dir. Susan Kaplan

Directed by Susan Kaplan, and spanning nine years of time, Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family is a fascinating documentary about three people—two men and a woman—who are married. As the Zimbabwean newspaper the Herald recently explained, "This form of polygamy between one woman and several men, who are her husbands simultaneously and exclusively, is called polyandry." Steven Margolin and Sam Cagnina are the husbands; Samantha Singh is the wife. Sam and Samantha come from interesting families—Sam's father is currently serving a very long prison sentence for committing very serious crimes in Miami when Sam was a child; Samantha's family is from India and lives in Toronto. Steven's Jewish family, on the other hand, is middle-class and exceptionally unexceptional.

The three marry in 1990, a year after they started dating—Sam and Steven were a couple for seven years before meeting Samantha. In many ways the documentary is about the '90s: The optimism that follows the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and instigates Clinton-era prosperity is the same optimism that brings Sam, Samantha, and Steve together. The three live in New York City (one of the two capitals of the '90s—the other is Seattle), have healthy, handsome children (two girls from both husbands), and run a successful business. S, S, and S are not freaks; they dress normally, act normally, and like most Americans want a satisfying income, dependable friends, and emotional stability. For much of the documentary, one is given the impression that a threesome, rather than a twosome, is a far better mode for the realization of these ordinary American dreams. But just when you think S, S, and S are unstoppable, things start falling apart. Though not directly mentioned in the documentary, the deterioration begins shortly after 9/11, the real end of the '90s. The end of the affair, which is simply heartbreaking, happens in an apartment whose windows have a clear view of the air where the Twin Towers once were. What the documentary manages to reveal is that the forces that rock a marriage of three are no different from those that rock the majority of marriages. CHARLES MUDEDE

Nanny McPhee
dir. Kirk Jones

Emma Thompson is running a vicious gambling ring, and Derek Jacobi, Angela Lansbury, Adam Godley, and Colin Firth owe her more than their combined net worth. How else can we explain their willingness to stoop so low? There is nothing to recommend this Thompson vehicle (she stars and wrote the screenplay) except for the part when an old biddy gets hit in the face with a chunk of wedding cake.

An adaptation of the well-loved Nurse Matilda books, the movie is a predictable riff on the nanny-as-savior theme: There are seven ill-behaved children who chew up their caretakers, a distracted widower/mortician father, a magical nanny who teaches everyone the true meaning of love, filial piety, citizenship, etc. Unfortunately, the movie is visually uninspiring (it's brightly colored but simple) and dull.

Once Firth's horrid children have exhausted every nanny in town, McPhee—a warty, apple-nosed Emma Thompson, with one really long incisor—shows up to cow the children, gradually earning their respect with her supernatural powers and refusal to be bullied. "When you need me, but do not want me, then I will stay," she says to her charges. "When you want me, but do not need me, then I have to go." Heavy.

Though meant for children, Nanny McPhee is best suited for that class of infantilized adults who are more frivolous than their offspring (you know the kind I mean). As the lights came up, a woman in front of me turned to her seatmate.

"Well, that was pretty good!"

"Yeah."

"I heard they're making Resident Evil 3."

"Oh? Is there another book?"

Enough said. BRENDAN KILEY

Bubble
dir. Steven Soderbergh

This small-scale, mostly unremarkable movie has been chosen for a small-scale but remarkable distribution experiment. DVD releases have been edging closer to theatrical releases for some time, but Bubble is the first high-profile movie that will be available on DVD and in theaters the same week. It's a murder mystery set in Belpre, Ohio, with a cast of nonactors, two of whom are pretty good—Debbie Doebereiner in a stunned, middle-aged sort of way, and Dustin James Ashley as perpetually amused postadolescent—and one of whom, Misty Dawn Wilkins, is awkward and annoying.

Would you bother watching unspectacular digital images (of a fluorescent-lit doughnut shop, a factory cafeteria, a small-town sports bar) run through a film projector at one of Landmark's less charming cinemas (it's opening at the Metro) when you could wait four days and see it in your cushy living room? This is the decision audiences will supposedly be making this weekend—but it's actually the wrong question altogether. We should be wondering why a person would bother watching the narrative feature when the beautiful, semiexperimental trailer is clearly so much better.

If you haven't seen it, the preview for Bubble is simply a montage of piled-up doll parts and bronze doll molds. The piles of parts are creepy because one doesn't have very pleasant associations with, for example, a mountain of detached legs outfitted with patent-leather Mary Janes. The head molds are creepy because they all have weird outbreaks of raised, pimply dots in lines around their mouths or eyes. Do these dots have a function? Do they allow the machines to better grip the molds or help the factory worker to pry out the rubber baby head more easily? (The best scenes in the actual movie, by the way, are when a factory worker is doing just that: prying out baby heads with little forceps. The heads make a satisfying pop.) In any case, it's impossible to tell. The molds aren't in use. Maybe the dots are deformities and the little head casings will be thrown away. This satisfying trailer will be available on DVD, but not in theaters (unless, of course, you're going to another movie). And of course, you can always watch it on the internet. ANNIE WAGNER

Big Momma’s House 2
dir. John Whitesell

Did you know that fat people are huge and fat? And that also they will sometimes wear a bathing suit, or even do a dance? And did you realize that a fat person is sometimes not fat at all, but really a just down-and-out FBI agent in a large outfit made of foam rubber? These things and more I learned from the amazing movie Big Momma’s House 2.

Look—Big Momma’s House 2 makes perfect sense. After the events of Big Momma’s House 1 (in which FBI agent Malcolm Turner impersonated neighborhood biddy Big Momma to hilarious effect, then seduced and married his own granddaughter), Turner (Martin Lawrence) is real bored. He’s retired his gun and his fat grandma costume in favor of a desk and a family, and everyone in the office hates the shit out of him (unexplained). His only recourse, therefore, is to pull Big Momma’s hollow foam corpse out from under the bed, climb inside, and take the law into his own puffy, puffy, hands. Obviously.

The details of the case are unimportant (something about hackers and murdering)—what matters here is the incredible fattiness of Big Momma (so fucking fat), the number of times Big Momma screams “Oooooooooooooooooooo!!!” (4,319), and most importantly, whether or not Big Momma is packing prosthetic lady-parts (you know, downtown).

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Martin Lawrence (delighting us with fake ta-tas since Sheneneh) is not an unfunny man, and there’s something mildly entertaining in Big Momma’s squeaky voice and buggy eyeballs. But Big Momma’s House 2 could have been edited down to four minutes: Big Momma puts on support hose. Oooooooooooooooooooo!!! Big Momma jiggles. Oooooooooooooooooooo!!! Big Momma rides a Segway. Oooooooooooooooooooo!!! Big Momma fights a perp. Oooooooooooooooooooo!!! “Don’t nobody mess with Big Momma’s babies!” As a full-length movie, Big Momma’s House 2 is as limp, shitty, and nonsensical as Big Momma’s gigantic thong.

Oooooooooooooooooooo!!! LINDY WEST