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Review: Somersault

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Aussie director Cate Shortland evidently knows her female coming-of-age dramas. Her atmospheric contribution to the genre begins in the same kind of dreamy register that marked such previous entries as The Virgin Suicides, New Waterford Girl, Me Without You and pretty much every movie Jane Campion ever made. That’s not such a bad thing, after all: For much of its running time, Somersault is pretty engaging. This also has something to do with the beguiling central performance of the fetching Abbie Cornish, who plays Heidi, a slightly dim teen who hops into bed with her mom’s boyfriend, gets found out, and then flees to a remote mountain town which appears to be some kind of ski resort. (Given that this is an atmospheric coming-of-age drama, however, it appears to be the gloomiest resort in the history of mankind.) There, she finds some more people to bed, particularly a morose, curious young farmhand.
    Abbie’s progress from an unthinking teen who uses sex as a tool to burgeoning young woman looking for love will, by necessity, involve quite a bit of pain, and Somersault is shot through with a kind of unease that suggests trouble lurking around every corner. That sense of suspicion might at times feel like overkill: Nobody in this film seems to like each other very much. (No wonder it’s so hard for Heidi to find love.) But one almost wishes there were more of it: Indeed, after the first half hour or so, the narrative crawls to a halt, as Heidi’s emotional drift becomes an excuse for director Shortland to indulge her handheld camerawork and elliptical cutting. It’s lovely to look at, but it gets tiresome. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: Standing Still
Joyeux NoelAn attractive and charming cast will only get you so far. That’s the lesson to be learned from Matthew Cole Weiss’s Standing Still, a wildly uneven, often annoying attempt to fashion an adult ensemble comedy for the American Pie set, complete with all the schizo contrivances that suggests. Commitment issues, teary confessions, discussions about marriage and fears of growing old (among twenty-five year olds — argh!) bounce off of horndog ramblings and stripper montages. Somewhere, Lawrence Kasdan’s head is exploding.
    College sweethearts Elise (Amy Adams) and Michael (Adam Garcia) are about to get married. Their wedding is the occasion for a bunch of their college buds to reunite, catch up, and get wasted. Chief among these are another couple, Rich (Aaron Stanford) and Samantha (Melissa Sagemiller), who can’t seem to decide whether they too want to tie the knot as well. One guess as to what they decide by the end of the movie. Joining them are a troubled actress with a crazy sex life (Mena Suvari), a powerful young agent (Colin Hanks), another bud named Pockets (the excellent John Abrahams) and an up-and-coming cowboy actor (James Van Der Beek, providing some much needed comic relief . . . in a comedy).
    The characters are all stock, the situations underdeveloped, and the resolutions bafflingly predictable. It’s hard to tell if the filmmakers responsible for this one were being blindly earnest or shamelessly exploitative (oh yeah, Elise used to have a lesbian love affair with her old college roommate, who shows up, makes out with her, and then proceeds to seduce Mena Suvari). It’s all made barely tolerable by some of today’s better, more overlooked young actors, while providing an all-too-tangible example of why they’re all so damned overlooked. — Bilge Ebiri
Review: Sir! No Sir!
Joyeux NoelAn eye-opening corrective to four decades of semi-official obfuscation and treacly Hollywood truthiness, David Zeiger’s Sir! No Sir! throws a long-overdue spotlight on the large, vocal antiwar movement among U.S. troops who served in Vietnam. Tracing the movement from early rumblings in off-base coffeehouses to on-base insurrection and subsequent crackdowns, Sir! No Sir! effectively debunks cherished right-wing myths about conformity among the ranks, not to mention that old chestnut about returning Vietnam vets being spit on at airports (apparently, an urban legend). If its stylization sometimes seems brisk to the point of flip — the psychedelic score could go — the subjects’ jaw-dropping bravery and hard work come through loud and clear.
    Zeiger propels his film with original vintage footage and mostly engaging talking-head monologues from former protestors, many of whom were jailed for speaking out. At times, he reveals an agitproper’s canny selectivity: among other things, he never addresses the connection between the soldiers’ movement and civilian dissent. Of course, the film has (admirably understated) implications for opposition to the Iraq War. If today’s soldiers and veterans are making any concerted effort to buck the administration, here’s hoping this movie goads someone into reporting it. — Mark Holcomb
Review: Mongolian Ping Pong
mongolianI won’t be the only one to say it, but let me be the first: it’s an East Asian The Gods Must Be Crazy. Actually, weirdly enough, Hong Kong has produced three — three! — unauthorized sequels to the popular 1980 comedy about a bushman and a Coke bottle, suggesting a national fascination with aboriginal people encountering the detritus of urban culture. Here, Bilike, a little boy who lives with his parents as a nomad in a vast grassland, finds a ping-pong ball floating in a creek. He and his two best friends then try to figure out the origins of the strange object.
    This premise could’ve been patronizing, but the film presents its characters without either yokelization or heavy “noble savage” bathos. They’re just people with good senses of humor and loving families living a fascinating lifestyle. The cast is excellent, but the young actors deserve special mention. They are astonishingly unlabored, never mugging in the fashion of the average young film/commercial star. Without these performances, the film couldn’t have worked; as it is, it’s a lovely reflection on growing up inquisitive. — Peter Smith
Date DVD: Breakfast on Pluto
breakfast on plutoIf you’re seeing a cinĂ©aste, cuddle up with Orson Welles in Criterion’s massive new box set, a mirror-maze of adaptations by the ornery auteur. Canoodling with a vintage-lunchbox hipster? Amuse him with Thunder-Thunder-Thunder-Thundercats: Season Two and sing the soundtrack together while ogling the slinky cartoon curves of its buff humanoid felines. Please your Broadway baby with Gold Diggers of ’33 or any other Technicolor dream in the new Busby Berkeley collection. But if, like me, you’re more attracted to damaged goods than high-kicking chorus girls, rent Breakfast on Pluto.
    Directed by Neil Jordan, the film is, as the old Tom Wolfe might have said, a kandy-kolored, tangerine-flake silver-screen baby about the cross-dressing Irish nutter Patrick “Pussy” Braden, a drama queen with a grudge against the Catholic Church and a taste for mascara (think Bad Education with a glam-Irish soundtrack). All that, and the film is still less crazy than the amped-up, wacked-out prose in Patrick McCabe’s novel of the same name. Of course, the book lacked Cillian Murphy’s wild, bright eyes and peacock-feather eyelashes, which have always been psychotically seductive, whether spying on Rachel McAdams in the silly plane movie Red Eye or staring down Batman in the Arkham asylum. There’s always been something frighteningly unhinged about our sexiest icons, from Bette Davis to Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp to half the pop-music constellation. The same goes for our dates. — Logan Hill

   

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