Film Openings

Week of October 5, 2005

 El Crimen Perfecto. (Not Rated) Master salesman Rafael (Guillermo Toledo) has everything in life, save the final promotion that will make him floor manager for the entire store. All that stands in his way is Don Antonio (Luis Varela), the badly toupeed men's department salesman. Don Antonio gets the job through a last-minute technicality and demotes Rafael almost immediately. A fight ensues, and Rafael ends up accidentally killing Don Antonio in a changing room. But there's a witness: Lourdes (Mónica Cervera), the only female employee that Rafael hasn't seduced. There's good reason for that: She's damned ugly and insane, but she's overjoyed to become Rafael's accomplice, knowing full well that he must do what she tells him, which includes copious sexual favors as well as complete public subservience. Director/co-writer Alex de la Iglesia (800 Bullets) is clearly one to watch. The movie is tremendously funny and entertaining, and also very nicely shot, and it takes far more advantage of the department store setting when no one's around than, say, Mr. & Mrs. Smith did. (Luke Y. Thompson)

Everything Is Illuminated. (PG-13) The film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's 2001 best-seller is a disappointment. Written and directed by talented actor Liev Schreiber, it nevertheless saps the novel of much of its depth and power. The story centers around a character named Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood) and his journey to Ukraine, where he intends to find and thank a woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Jonathan's translator/guide Alex (Eugene Hutz, of the Slavic-rock band Gogol Bordello) is a gangly self-styled gangsta (read: clown) whose hysterically blind grandfather (Boris Leskin) serves as driver. Then there's Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., a deranged "seeing-eye bitch." Three men and a border collie: It's hilarious. It's also beautiful, as Schreiber has an excellent feel for music and scene. But where's the soul? Schreiber omits all scenes of Jonathan's ancestral village and alters the identities of the two tragic figures to the point of implausibility. The result is a flaccid brand of sentimentality. Unlike Foer, whose treatment of the Holocaust is unflinching, Schreiber seems to have balked in the face of horror. (Melissa Levine)

The Gospel. When things get tough for a young singer, he blames God -- ouch. And his dad is a bishop -- double ouch. When Pops falls ill, the young man returns to the church, which has become a holy mess. Can he redeem the church and himself? Lord only knows. Directed by Rob Hardy. (not reviewed)

In Her Shoes. (PG-13) This is one of those horrid Hollywood movies in which an actress (Toni Collette) gains a handful of pounds, wears only a little makeup, and is constantly referred to as frumpy and fat; it's self-help cinema for pretty people who don't think they're pretty enough. These aren't characters, but caricatures of the Driven Woman Who Chose to Ditch Her Stressful Day Job to Walk Dogs (Collette) and Her Feral Younger Sister Who Moves In With an Old Lady and Discovers Responsibility After All (Cameron Diaz). This is a song you've heard a thousand times before, and every note rings false -- save for those performed by Shirley MacLaine, as the girls' grandmother, who lives in an idyllic retirement community populated by cheerful old folks who apparently believe Cocoon was a documentary. One can't help but ache at the irony: a movie about young women just figuring out their dreary lives are empty and drab, till at long last it moves into the old folks' home and finds its soul. (Robert Wilonsky)

November. (R) Almost the entire narrative of Greg Harrison's thriller unfolds in his heroine's mind -- three distinct, contradictory narratives, actually -- and whether you embrace that probably depends on your tolerance for portents, mystification, and tricked-up flashbacks. Friends alum Courteney Cox stars as Sophie Jacobs, a photographer who's tormented by grief, fear, and guilt when her boyfriend (James Le Gros) is murdered in a convenience store stickup. What really happened? That's a matter of debate, as Harrison (Groove) and screenwriter Benjamin Brand play mind games with the audience, invoking everything from Kurosawa's Rashomon to Antonioni's Blowup. Cox, bespectacled and deglamorized here, shows some acting ability, but by the time you get through this 78-minute bag of tricks, you could be suffering from a case of perceptual overload. (Bill Gallo)

Thumbsucker. (R) Reviewed in this issue.

Two For the Money. Say you are a once-promising athlete who gets sidelined by injury. What's your best bet? If you happen to be Matthew McConaughey playing said erstwhile athlete, you probably hook up with a bookie (Al Pacino). But will he bust or let it ride? We're not sure, but we have crapped out of gambling clichés. Har! (not reviewed)

Waiting.... (R) It begins with a drunken party and ends at almost exactly the same place. The script ignores the standard "three-act" formula, with little structure and virtually no character arcs. Many of the dilemmas that are established never pay off, and there is no clear protagonist or antagonist. To make matters even murkier, the movie is poorly shot in visually uninteresting locations with constant soft focus. That said, it's a damn funny film. Clearly inspired by Clerks and Office Space, Waiting is worthy to stand alongside them as a new classic of the "sucky job" subgenre. If you've ever worked at a restaurant, you know many of these characters, and you also likely know the sort of vulgar humor that young people with unoccupied minds tend to come up with during the downtime of their boring minimum-wage routine. The cast includes wiseass Ryan Reynolds, babes Anna Faris and Jordan Ladd, sad-sack Justin Long, deranged Luis Guzman, pseudo-profound Chi McBride, dumbass David Koechner and would-be gangsta Andy Milonakis. (Thompson)

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. (G) Reviewed in this issue.

 
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