dir. David Gordon Green
In a snow-encrusted town, far from the muggy Southern byways where North Carolina– educated director David Gordon Green made his reputation (starting with 2000's George Washington), a woman tries, half-heartedly, to distance herself from her sad fuck-up of her husband, a former high-school sweetheart. Meanwhile, a high schooler she used to babysit makes tentative, funny passes at a cute girl in glasses. The moral wouldn't be out of place in a country song, but it's heavy lifting for a drama starring Kate Beckinsale: Young love is sweet as fresh-fallen fruit, but then it putrifies, liquefies, drains away.
Beckinsale plays Annie, a young mother and waitress in a Chinese restaurant run entirely by white people. She acts like she's above it all, and since she looks like Kate Beckinsale, we believe her—even though she's sleeping with the husband of her best friend (Amy Sedaris). But her husband Glenn (the excellent Sam Rockwell) is determined to keep her in his life, dragging her along as he ricochets between alcoholic blackouts and equally selfish bursts of Christian fervor. Their conversations are hard to watch: Glenn earnestly believes he must express his affection to win his wife back; Annie is patient with him, but she's almost as turned off by his desperation as his inability to hold on to a job. The future does not look good for either parent—or their young daughter.
But every time this dismal story threatens to suffocate the movie, Green shifts back to one of the freshest, most adorable teenage seductions ever put to film. Two shockingly charismatic kids, Lila (Olivia Thirlby, last wasted in Juno) and Arthur (Michael Angarano), borrow pencils and compliment each other's shoes and do everything they can think of not to confess their affections—until finally the excuses run out. The transitions between Annie and Glenn's rotten relationship and the teenagers' dewy infatuation can seem abrupt. But perhaps only jarring juxtapositions can lead you to ponder the unthinkable: that once upon a time, Annie and Glenn were as cute and young and excited to be in love as Lila and Arthur are now. ANNIE WAGNER
dir. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Consider Adam Carolla: that king of schlubs and goofballs, foil for Dr. Drew, consort of Jimmy Kimmel, and cocreator of The Man Show, where manhood is nothing more than a dumb oscillation between boobies and beer. He'd be easy to dismiss if he weren't so good at dismissing himself first.
Most guy's-guy comedians are braying jackasses who revel in their idiocy: Dane Cook, Larry the Cable Guy. But Carolla is a thinking man's lout, a sweet, self-deprecating oaf who regrets his oafishness, more Charlie Chaplin than Howard Stern.
Carolla has earned his sad-sack existentialism: The son of working-class Philadelphians, young Carolla moved to North Hollywood, attended high school with the rich and famous—he allegedly lost his virginity to Beth Ringwald, Molly's sister—and barely graduated with a 1.75 GPA. For the next 12 years, he worked as a laborer: carpenter, driving-school instructor, boxing coach. His entrée to show business came in the form of Jimmy Kimmel, then a Los Angeles DJ who was looking for a boxing instructor. Friendship happened, then guest radio spots, then Loveline and The Man Show, then the houses and sports cars.
So is it any surprise that The Hammer—which Carolla cowrote, coproduced, and stars in—resembles Carolla's accidental American dream? Briefly: A washed-up boxer turned construction worker gets another shot at the big time. His quick wit, sweet heart, and Nicaraguan sidekick (played by Oswaldo Castillo, Carolla's real-life construction pal of 20 years) see him through. It's boilerplate—but it's sweet, knowing boilerplate. The Hammer, like Carolla, stoops to conquer. BRENDAN KILEY
dir. Ira Sachs
A sometimes amusing but more often wooden film about postwar adultery, Married Life succeeds only in reminding you that Eliot Spitzer isn't all bad. After all, he never tried to murder his wife.
In a distinctly Hitchcockian 1949, Harry (Chris Cooper) is married to Pat (Patricia Clarkson), but he's sleeping with a young, impeccably pretty widow named Kay (Rachel McAdams). Since Pat talks frankly about sex and Kay is a ruby-lipped bottle blonde, our sympathies naturally align with the wife. But Kay is mostly just lonely and Pat is behaving badly, too, which evens out the field and makes what comes next feel oddly abstract. Harry decides it would be mean to leave Pat, so he takes the high road—he'll poison her with photographic chemicals instead.
The drama mounts as Harry plots the deed, but the will-he-succeed-or-will-he-repent tension is pure formula, and without characters that can make us care, the thrills are muted. ANNIE WAGNER
dir. Anastaysia Popova, Julia Perkul
Unlike What the Bleep Do We Know!?, the latest pseudoscience dump from Bleep cocreator Betsy Chasse appears not to be a recruitment tool for Ramtha's School of Enlightenment in Yelm, Washington. (Though it should be noted: Water is opening exclusively in the top markets of Seattle, L.A., Austin, Portland, and... Yelm.) As far as I can tell, Water is instead being used to sell bottled "water with intention" under the brand H2Om. The water is being advertised on the film's website; it has a stamp of approval from the film's chief expert, the Japanese "researcher" Masaru Emoto; and the film's ticket sales benefit the Love Planet Foundation, a project (under the umbrella of a legitimate 501(c)3 in California) run by Lex Lang and Sandy Fox—who happen to be the CEO and cofounders of H2Om.
As for the movie itself, it's a mind-numbing mixture of hard facts (water exists in three states, water is a limited resource that may take on increased importance in the 21st century), total bullshit (water has memory and consciousness, water can be "structurized" and used to make fuel, water that is bombarded with evil thoughts makes ugly crystals when frozen), and inspiring stories (Jesus turns water into wine, a monk during the Inquisition makes dirty water pure with his prayers, shipwrecked men survive on saltwater which they have desalinated with their minds). It's insulting. Don't buy H2Om. ANNIE WAGNER