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Review: House of D

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For a while, it looked like David Duchovny’s TV-to-movie transition would be less Johnny Depp, more Joey/Chandler. As someone who’s pined for him since Twin Peaks, I worried. But now, he’s featured in his own writing/directing debut, and fortunately, House of D — while flawed — is no Serving Sara. It’s a coming-of-age story nestled in a coming-of-middle-age story, with Duchovny as Tom Warshaw, an artist in present-day Paris with a childhood secret to spill to his wife and son, who’s now the same age he was when . . .
    Cut to 1970s Greenwich Village, where thirteen-year-old Tommy (Anton Yelchin) — whose dad has just died — and his brittle, Brussels-sprouts-pushing mom (Duchovny’s real-life wife, Leoni) glare at each other across the dinner table. Yelchin is scarily gifted; all other teen actors should tear up their SAG cards. His best friend is his school’s retarded janitor Pappass, played by Robin Williams. (Shut up, it works here.) The flashback, which is thankfully most of the movie, is like a love letter to Manhattan, with an old-school sentimentality (Tommy and Pappass save change in cigar boxes for a groovy bike), out-loud Freaks-and-Geeks laughs, and genuine pathos.
    Its primary failing, alas, is its central conceit (and also, apparently, the germ of Duchovny’s idea for the film): the women incarcerated in what really was a House of D — as in Detention — on Sixth Avenue, and their through-the-bars conversations with pimps and passersby. It’s a credible, even compelling notion that Tommy, bereft of strong parent figures, would strike up a relationship with “Lady Bernadette” (Erykah Badu). Unfortunately, her character is left treading water in Wise and Sassy Black Lady territory, her role in the plot ultimately not much more than an implausible diva ex machina.
    The movie’s present-tense bookends also fall short. At a press event for the film — where, reader, I made him laugh! — Duchovny said, “The X-Files taught me a lot about tension.” Perhaps he was talking about season nine? The movie’s prologue tells too much, while showing too little; the post-logue is equally unsatisfying, even saccharine. When Tom says, “I don’t have to run anymore,” I wanted to run back to the Village and play parking-lot baseball with Pappass and Tommy.
    But I still love him, two-dimensional African-American characters and all, and not just because he liked my joke. The film has a genuine personal quality: while not Duchovny’s autobiography, it is a product of sincerity, not vanity — and you can feel it. — Lynn Harris

Review: Torremolinos 73
You’re far knobbier and hairier than you think, which is why filming yourself having sex usually proves ill conceived. Even so, Alfredo and his wife Carmen discover a love for the art of home pornography, bucking their puritanical 1970s Spanish government in the process. You can’t help but get a little dewy-eyed for our star-spangled right to screw for the camera the first time that Carmen removes her brassiere and abashedly squishes her breasts together for the Super 8.
    Pablo Berger’s Torremolinos 73 is occasionally hysterical, but most of its laughs come in chuckle form and long scenes of giddy discomfort: Alfredo directing his wife, dressed as a nurse, to gently finger herself. When their tapes go public and Carmen ends up in a porn rag, she doesn’t know whether to feel flattered or embarrassed when asked for her autograph. When offered a chance to shoot a feature-length porn, Alfredo imagines he’s the next Ingmar Bergman.
    Neither Berger nor any of his actors have much of a resume (Berger’s includes “a video clip for a Japanese rock band”), which only adds to the pleasingly lo-fi ’70s quality of the endeavor. You can’t help but wonder how much of this comes from the director’s own experience — what film student, after all, could resist setting up the tripod with a willing one-night-stand in his nascent filmmaking years? — Will Doig
Review: Short Cut to Nirvana
Every Hindu sage in Short Cut to Nirvana: Kumbh Mela, a documentary about a mass ritual immersion occurring every twelve years at the confluence of three Indian rivers, has blessed all viewers of the film, one of its two directors said at a recent screening. “So if you feel a little tingle,” the auteur Maurizio Benazzo added, “you’ll know why.”
    Is Nirvana tingle-worthy? I’m not sure. Certainly, it’s eye-popping, given the sheer wash of humanity that nearly overwhelms the camera’s lens. What’s captured is the peregrination of an estimated seventy million to the convergence of the Ganges, Yamunas and the mystical Saraswati, where Hindus believe they can rinse themselves of sin, an act that exempts them from reincarnation and lets them jump the line to paradise.
    Nirvana reveals not only their pilgrimage and ultimate ablution, but a related 2001 spiritual fair held in a tent city constructed in the town of Allahabad. There, aided by a charismatic young monk, Benazzo and his filmic partner, Nick Day, interview gurus and yogis, including some who mortify their flesh in the name of universal love and peace. Subjects include an ascete who’s held his arm in the air for twenty years, a guru who wraps his penis around a pole upon which he balances passersby, and a Japanese devotee who entombs herself for three days.
    A causal link between their pain and world peace can be hard to imagine, and not only for a Western viewer. Of the festival attendees seeking followers, “only twenty percent are real holy persons,” estimates one Indian woman, a Hindu priest.
    Despite her take, Nirvana itself captures the staggering sweep of Kumbh Mela, but never presumes to render a verdict or opinion. Yet because of its distance and objectivity, Nirvana too rarely limns the festivalgoers’ humanity. Consequently, its most moving scene involves a sobbing child lost in the crush of pilgrims. When police restore the girl to her mother, the woman faints with relief.
    Spiritual rapture can be hard to relay through a film. But that mother’s love for her child transcends all limits of the medium, and that’s truly tingle-worthy. — Susan Comninos
Date DVD #28: Seed of Chucky
The most underrated puppet film of last year (even with mixed reviews, Team America was the most overrated), Seed of Chucky deserves a long, hellish afterlife on rental shelves. Series creator Don Mancini’s directorial debut is one of the most bizarre and meta-minded horror films ever distributed by a major studio, which is why it suffered a bloodbath at the multiplex — and why it should make a perfect you-won’t-believe-this DVD.
    The sequel’s not called Son of Chucky because of the twist: no one can tell if Chuck’s child is a son or daughter. Gender-confused like most anatomically incorrect dolls, the kid is voiced, brilliantly, by one of the fey hobbits from the Lord of the Rings (Billy Boyd) in a kind of “yes, guvnah” Oliver Twist accent. Chucky, of course, is pissed — he wants his sensitive son to grow up to be a murderer like pop, and there’s plenty of homophobic ranting. But Chucky’s wife (voiced by the whiny and wonderful Jennifer Tilly) wants a sweet daughter who will live the peaceful life the two didn’t choose.
    It ain’t Middlesex, or Hedwig, but it does have shades of Pink Flamingos. Mancini, a gay director who loves the horror genre enough to fuck with it, has a blast, and so should you, especially with a trashy, gutter-mouthed companion. — Logan Hill

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