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Review: The Whore’s Son

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Some titles just don’t lie. Michael Sturminger’s grim little coming-of-age story is about pretty much what it says it is. Young Oren spends his early life unaware that his doting Balkan refugee mother Silvija (Chulpan Khamatova) is a woman of the night. (This, despite a brothel in the first floor of their building and a supporting cast whose sole purpose seems to be to call the kid a “whore’s son” constantly.) As our hero grows up, Silvija becomes more established in her trade. When she finally announces she is giving their flat over to the boy (now a teenager) and moving out on her own, we suspect it’s because she’s found a sugar daddy. Through it all, Oren is oddly silent — his early blissful ignorance of mom’s profession seems to have metastasized into a general unwillingness to engage in or deal with the world. As such, his devotion to his mother is touching, made all the more affecting by the fact that the more the boy becomes obsessed with Silvija, the less she seems to regard him. For much of the film’s running time, Sturminger gives Oren and Silvija’s milieu a lived-in grittiness that feels right, and his camera moves with ease through this red-light world. As the film moves into its final act, however, Sturminger’s footing becomes slightly less sure: He’s opened up a whole Oedipal can of worms here, but the story and its characters are too spare and one-note to really support it. By the film’s melodramatic and possibly symbolic conclusion, we’re left curiously cold. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: Stick It
Joyeux NoelIn this teen gymnastics movie, a scrappy-but-talented misfit clashes with a curmudgeonly-but-lovable coach. She also spars with a prissy rival and suffers heartache at the hands of a trashy, gold-digging parent. But just as you start to despair that the screenwriter merely typed “gymnastics” into a teen-sports movie computer program, the film breaks from the formula in one important way: It shows no reverence for the sport.
    After a run-in with the law, Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) is forced to resume the elite gymnastics training she walked out on the year before. Her coach (Jeff Bridges) eventually coaxes her into training, but she never loses her contempt for competitive gymnastics, at least as it’s practiced on the elite level. “I was never great,” Haley explains. “I was obedient.”
    Written and directed by Jessica Bendinger (Bring It On), this frothy Disney flick is at times as damning as Frontline documentary as it shows the sausage-factory method by which these fiercely strong, shit-kicking athletes are molded into manically smiling, pigtailed androids. In training, the girls repeatedly endure back-slamming crashes and enough push-ups to make a Marine faint. In competition, they’re judged on whether their bra straps show or their leotards ride up. As Haley says, “It doesn’t matter how well you do. It matters how well you follow the rules.” It would have been nice if this film had broken a few more rules, but it’s worth seeing for the one it does. — Sara Eckel
Review: Army of Shadows
Joyeux NoelDirector Jean-Pierre Melville specialized in terse, atmospheric gangster dramas (Le Samourai, Bob le Flambeur), so one wonders what a war flick by this celebrated auteur might look like. Surprise — Melville’s ambitious, affecting epic of the French Resistance, made in 1969 but now being released in the U.S. for the first time, plays out like a terse, atmospheric gangster drama. The story begins in a prison camp, where engineer and Resistance cell leader Phillipe Gerbier (Lino Ventura, bringing his usual rumpled nobility) is interned, and follows this wan, middle-aged hero through his escape back to his network in Marseilles, where these Resistance fighters buzz about with the same world-weary cynicism and tough-as-nails professionalism we’ve come to expect from the stone-faced hoods in the director’s other films. These people are not fresh-faced idealists, and there’s a reason for that: They’d be perfectly at home holding up a casino or gunning down stoolies — and it turns out that the latter is exactly what they have to do in one of the film’s more devastating scenes. This scene, might I add, occurs in an instant and with a minimum of fanfare, in true no-nonsense Melville fashion. — Bilge Ebiri
Review: American Cannibal: The Road to Reality
Joyeux NoelWhat would a reality-show documentary be without the prospect of contestants literally eating each other? American Cannibal: The Road to Reality, which premiered Wednesday at the Tribeca Film Festival, presents a surreal behind-the-scenes look at a doomed reality-TV pilot called The Ultimate, Ultimate Challenge.
    Directed by Perry Grebin and Michael Nigro, the film stars Gil S. Ripley and Dave Roberts, writing partners who realize, after rounds of fruitless pitching, that all anyone wants to do is manufacture C-list celebrities via reality shows. The duo eventually scores a writing opportunity with a Survivor-esque pilot backed by the audacious Kevin Blatt, best known as the distributor and promoter of the Paris Hilton and Colin Farrell sex tapes.
    Blatt recently sent a cease-and-desist order (since withdrawn) to American Cannibal‘s directors. But the presence of a documentary crew was the least of the production’s troubles. After six days of shooting on an island off Puerto Rico, the show abruptly shut down when a contestant became critically injured during a challenge and fell into a coma. By capturing this trainwreck, the filmmakers provide a shrewd and unsettling meditation on the way in which television has encouraged us to devour each other for the sake of entertainment. — Tobi Elkin
Date DVD: Match Point
Dog Day AfternoonThis week, you won’t find much romance at the theaters. United 93 is profound, but remember all that trouble Jerry Seinfeld got into for making out during Schindler’s List? So pick one of the three romances out on DVD this week: Casanova, Shopgirl and Match Point. My advice? Please, for God’s sake, skip Lasse Hallstrom’s Casanova: there’s never been a more boring or less sexy film made about a legendary lover, and it’s flat-out depressing to see Hallstrom make a film worse than An Unfinished Life (whose best quality was that J.Lo wasn’t the worst thing about it.) Shopgirl, based on Steve Martin’s novella about a rich playboy who throws money at a cute scarf salesgirl, might work well for you, particularly if you’re very rich and need to justify your affair with a poor, naïve girl half your age. But even if I were a billionaire in a barely legal affair, I’d rather watch Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Myers press flesh in the soft-focus rain of Woody Allen’s Match Point.
    Allen’s sexy thriller boasts a high-wattage performance by Johansson, who nails Hollywood glamour for the first time in her career. It also involves some of the most giggle-inducing seduction scenes you’ll ever see — if only because you can’t help imagining the Woodster behind the camera. Perhaps more fun than the film is the party game Make Your Own Woody Commentary Track. As Rhys-Myers and Johansson grope one another, see who can do the best impersonation of Woody Allen directing the sex scenes: “Um, yeah, um, what I’d really like is for you to blindfold him, Scarlett. Yeah, and, um, hurt him, okay — you know, eighty percent of sex is getting undressed — no, no, not like that, you need to be two with nature . . . No! No! See, this is why I masturbate, at least it’s with someone I love . . .” — Logan Hill

   

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