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Review: Duck Season

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Set almost entirely within a single apartment, Duck Season, a new comedy from first-time director Fernando Eimbcke, could almost be an extended Mexican episode of Seinfeld: three males and one female bickering endlessly about nothing of import. It makes a big difference, though, that only one member of this goofy quartet has made it through puberty. Best pals Moko (Diego CataƱo) and Flama (Daniel Miranda), both fourteen, have every intention of whiling away a lazy Sunday afternoon in their usual manner, blowing each other’s heads off via Halo and pouring glasses of Coke so full to the brim that they can’t even be lifted. Alas, their hermetic idyll is repeatedly disturbed — first by Rita (Danny Perea), the spiky sixteen-year-old from down the hall, who wants to borrow their oven; then by Ulises (Enrique Arreola), a delivery guy who shows up precisely eleven seconds late with the boys’ pizza (free if it takes more than half an hour) and refuses to leave the premises until he’s paid; and finally by a power outage, which forces all assembled to interact whether they want to or not.
    So where the hell are the ducks, then? Well, they’re flying in V-formation across a cheesy, budget-motel-style painting that we eventually discover to be one of numerous objects of dispute in the impending divorce of Flama’s parents. Eimbcke, who wrote the screenplay, has planted little narrative stealth bombs like that one throughout this deceptively simple and sometimes aggressively banal scenario — another involves the reason that Rita wants to use the oven. (No, she’s not pulling a Sylvia Plath.) He’s also shot the film in a black-and-white so spectacularly dingy-looking that the characters seem to be constantly fighting not to merge with the decor. Nothing if not understated, Duck Season quietly, almost imperceptibly builds comedic and emotional steam, creating a singular stutter-stop rhythm as its four protagonists form a makeshift community without ever quite surrendering their nagging sense of permanent isolation. Slow to get rolling, it’s a font of droll hilarity in its second half, and gently moving in its resolution. A minor treat. — Mike D’Angelo

Review: Evil
Our Brand Is CrisisStay the fuck away from Swedish preppies. That seems to be the central message of Mikael Hafstrom’s engagingly sadistic, though flawed, adaptation of Jan Guillou’s acclaimed novel. The plot: a troubled teen is sent to a highly regimented boarding school and terrorized by a small clique of aristocratic students with a penchant for violent beat-downs. (Insert “Dead Poets Society meets Fight Club” gag here.). Of course, in post-WWII Sweden, with the horrors of Nazism still a fresh memory, there may well be a more disturbing subtext here: One of the teachers is still obsessed with Aryan eugenics, and the school’s most helpless victim proves to be a dark-featured, four-eyed nerd.
    If the above sounds a bit too hamhanded, then, well, bingo. Subtext requires subtlety, and Evil doesn’t quite have the patience for such pussyfooting around. Hafstrom’s in-your-face approach to the material doesn’t flinch at showing us the ghastly results of these characters’ actions, and his swooping camera and intense close-ups make Evil compulsively, horrifically watchable. But the aesthetic juggernaut of the director’s style leaves little room for nuance or character shading, all leading up to a disastrous finale. As long as violence begets violence begets more violence, the director’s confidence carries us along. But once any kind of moral ambiguity is introduced into the equation, once the violence is put to an end and some kind of resolution is required, he doesn’t seem to know what to do. — Bilge Ebiri
Review: The Hills Have Eyes
Joyeux NoelIf you need to shake up your movie-going routine, try walking out at a critical point in the action. It’s liberating and empowering. Your every step towards the exit announces, “I don’t have to stand for this!” Try it out with the awful, gruesome The Hills Have Eyes. One ideal time to make your exit: when a nuclear-radiated zombie with a harelip is pointing a handgun at an infant’s skull and licking the mother’s face while its one-eyed brother is attempting to rape the infant’s mother’s sister and the womens’ father is strapped to a tree, burning alive outside the trailer. That’s assuming you don’t take as your cue the footage of disfigured fetuses floating in cyanide during the opening credits. The choice is yours! Feel the freedom! — F. Russell
Date DVD: Howl’s Moving Castle
Dog Day AfternoonIf there’s one absolutely good thing to come out of Oscar season, it’s what follows: the season of second-guessing, when every filmlover gets to play Monday morning quarterback. While it won’t make up for the exposure to nature’s most dangerous toxin (Billy Bush), we can at least argue on dates and at the DVD store about who shoulda won (Brokeback for best picture), who got screwed (anyone in a comedy) and who shoulda at least been nominated for crissake, from David Cronenberg for directing History of Violence, to Shane Black for writing Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. But of all the bones to pick, I’ll take on those plasticine cuties Wallace & Gromit, who stole the best animated film Oscar that should have gone to Hayao Miyazaki’s incredible Howl’s Moving Castle, out this week on DVD.
    Like Dubya, Wallace & Gromit used dumb-guy charm and some sophisticated stagecraft to eclipse a much more worthy competitor. As the pretentious kid from The Squid and the Whale might complain, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was a minor work in the Gromit canon, flat and unfunny for long stretches, no matter how amazing the stop-motion magic. But Miyazaki’s film was a shape-shifting wartime fantasy packed with extraordinary character design and laced with dark, mutating themes. It told a military romance in a landscape of dancing scarecrows and teetering, smoking castles and winged beasts, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was not just the best film of the year, but, more impressive, it might be the best film of Miyazaki’s career, including My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke. I’d go on, but it’s more fun if you argue it out with your date, after Howl’s tragic romance has come to its spectacular end. — Logan Hill

   

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