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Film Openings

Week of December 7, 2006

Apocalypto. (R) Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CGX, DP, HP, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

The Architect. (R) An urban drama about liberal complacency meeting its match, The Architect stars Viola Davis as Tonya Neeley, a community activist on Chicago's South Side who's trying to gather enough signatures to get her ratty housing project torn down and rebuilt. Degraded by poverty, unemployment, and social collapse, the locals range from indifferent to hostile. Desperate for help, she shows up in the college classroom of Leo Waters (the excellent Anthony LaPaglia), the distinguished architect who designed the projects back in the idealistic '60s, and asks him to sign her petition. Adapted by Matt Tauber from a stage play by the Scottish playwright David Greig, The Architect's macro-theme is the unwillingness of the liberal bourgeoisie to face up to the unintended consequences of its social policies. Its micro-theme is parallel family collapse. Morally and politically irreproachable, the movie is dramatically dull and overly wedded to its tidy dual structure. Still, it's an affecting study in the private loneliness and strength of Tonya, a woman who understands her own motives only imperfectly but presses ahead anyway, refusing to be fobbed off. To that challenge, Davis brings her steady gaze and her unshakable dignity. She's a joy to behold. (Ella Taylor) PF

Blood Diamond. (R) Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, OF, RON, STCH, TS12

Ever Again. (Not Rated) Signaling a modern approach, the opening montage of this documentary juxtaposes stock footage of Hitler with clips from a neo-Nazi video called "Housewitz," a music video/parody advertising Auschwitz as if it were a rave. The causal combination of pop culture and Holocaust imagery is an arresting start to a film about contemporary European anti-Semitism, but the doc quickly turns to well-worn themes. Produced by the not-exactly-nonpartisan Simon Wiesenthal Center, Ever Again is a collection of interviews and film clips exploring anti-Semitism in England, Paris, and Belgium, woven together by Kevin Costner's matter-of-fact narration. While it does raise awareness — presenting hate-mongering British Imams preaching messages like "The Jews are a virus resembling AIDS" — it also relies on fear-mongering tactics (see: title) rather than cohesive arguments to foment outrage. While trying to explain the increase in European anti-Semitism, the film, like its subjects, often conflates Jews with the state of Israel. And though it does give credence to the frustrations of impoverished Muslim immigrants in suburban Paris and London, Ever Again's worldview feels awfully myopic. (Jessica Grose) TV

The Holiday. (PG-13) In the latest from writer-producer-director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give), Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is a Los Angeles movie trailer producer who's just kicked her cheating boyfriend to the curb. Iris (Kate Winslet) is a Daily Telegraph wedding reporter whose own unfaithful ex is getting hitched to another woman. After bonding in an internet chat room, they negotiate a house swap — Amanda's epic Brentwood mansion for Iris's quaint London gingerbread cottage — and, upon arriving in their new digs, promptly dive headfirst back into the relationship cesspool (Diaz with Jude Law, Winslet with Jack Black). Meyers doffs her hat early and often to the literate Hollywood romantic comedies of yesteryear, with their strong female characters and crackling wit, and she clearly fancies herself an heir to that tradition. She's not, but the awful truth about The Holiday is that it is frequently smarter and savvier than the Hollywood norm (e.g., anything starring Kate Hudson and one of the Wilson brothers). Like Meyers's other recent films, it's also reductive in its view of women in a way that would get a male director strung up by his toes. If this is female empowerment, I'd hate to see what oppression looks like. (Scott Foundas) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

La Moustache. (Not Rated) A sweaty French capsule of domestic apocalypse, Emmanuel Carrère's movie begins with exactly the ridiculously mundane question that transforms the characters' lives into an electrocuted horror: Should I shave my mustache? Marc (Vincent Lindon) asks as he's lathering up in a bath before a dinner party; "Never seen you without it," his wife Agnès (Emmanuelle Devos) shrugs. He does, hides his face coyly, and then the unthinkable happens — she says nothing. His friends at dinner do not notice, his co-workers the next day are mute. Agnès soon flips out — her husband never had a mustache. An elaborate joke, or delusion? Both are happier scenarios than the last stop on this existential rail line to nowhere: that Carrère's hero is in fact invisible, incorporeal, present but somehow irrelevant, a Kafkaesque "disappearance man." A Raymond Carver tale nudged into everyday absurdism, La Moustache's premise is fueled by both Devos, she of the relentlessly fascinating Picasso face, and Lindon, who is perfectly cast as an average semi-macho schmo caught in the ultimate pre-menopausal nightmare. (Michael Atkinson) TV

Unaccompanied Minors. (PG) Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig certainly knows how to cast talented young actors, but in this instance, he doesn't seem to have any idea what to do with them. So while Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris), Dyllan Christopher (Seabiscuit), Brett Kelly (Bad Santa), Gina Mantegna (daughter of Joe), and Quinn Shephard are all appealing, the series of forced slapstick scenarios they endure are not. (Memo to Feig: "That's gotta hurt!" doesn't cut it as a punch line.) Stranded at an airport on Christmas Eve, the five minors amuse themselves by running around, stealing things, and pissing off security officer Lewis Black (surely no great feat, that). Anyone who has ever actually been stuck in a terminal with rowdy youngsters will not likely choose to pay money to revisit that experience on screen. (Luke Y. Thompson) ARN, CGX, DP, EG, J14, KEN, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

 
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