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Week of May 24, 2007

Bug. (R) Made on the cheap for the horror-loving kids at Lionsgate, this freaky-deaky psycho-thriller from New Hollywood survivor William Friedkin is more inventively unsettling than anything the auteur has mustered in the quarter-century since twisting little Linda Blair into a satanic spewer of pea soup and F-bombs. Mostly the movie confines its creepy-crawly head games to one dingy motel room, where an Oklahoma honky-tonk barmaid (Ashley Judd) holes up with a wigged-out stranger (Michael Shannon) just back from combat operations in the Middle East. To varying degrees, these two damaged, desperate souls let their imaginations run wild in tight quarters, leading to full-on madness and an erotic/violent climax right out of Almodvar's Matador. Flamboyantly absurd, with the self-mutilating vet suffering an itch he can't sufficiently scratch, the film often plays like a satire of the lefty paranoia cinema that was big in Friedkin's Hollywood heyday. And yet its psychological insights into mental illness remain acute and even sensitive. Indeed, as Judd's Agnes undergoes an extreme, insect-like metamorphosis, Bug itself turns from a horror movie into something like a love story. (Rob Nelson) ARN, CGX, DP, J14, MR, RON, STCH, STCL, TS12

Offside. (PG) Jafar Panahi is a paradoxical populist. He makes crowd-pleasing art movies and is a virtuoso director of (non) actors. But this most widely seen of Iranian filmmakers is also the most frequently banned. Panahi specializes in tumultuous activity in tight spaces: Offside opens on one packed minibus and ends on another. The first hurtles toward Tehran's Azadi Stadium, where Iran is to play a World Cup match against Bahrain; the second, a police van, swerves through streets clogged with chanting hordes in the game's aftermath. Iranian women are not permitted to attend sports events, and before the soccer match begins, another game is afoot. "They're pros, they know how to get in," one boy tells his buddy of the women dressed in drag on a passing bus. The lone girl on their bus is, however, an obvious novice. After paying an inflated price for a scalped ticket, she's approached by a guard, instinctively flinches, and winds up in a holding pen on the stadium's upper level, along with a half-dozen other girls who are not only more street-smart than their guards, but more soccer-smart. Part sports-inspirational, part women's prison film, Offside confounds expectations regarding genre as well as gender. The battle of the sexes is ultimately subsumed in nationalism, and the penitentiary walls cannot hold. The lengthy crowd scenes that end this dodgy, dexterous performance intimate a universal liberation. (J. Hoberman) TV

Once. (Not Rated) Reviewed in this issue. TV

Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End. Reviewed in this issue. ARN, CPP, CGX, DP, EG, J14, MR, OF, RON, SP, STCH, STCL, TS12

The Valet. (PG-13) Of all of Francis Veber's farces (The Dinner Game, La Cage Aux Folles, The Closet, etc.), this is the one that feels most like a sitcom pilot, which is to say it's a farce most forced. One can hear the showrunner's pitch now (translated from the original French, natch): "OK, so, a valet who parks cars at a restaurant across the street from the Eiffel Tower has to live with a supermodel to cover up the affair the supermodel's having with a powerful executive whose even more powerful wife will leave him, bankrupt and humiliated, should she ever find out about the affair. Oh, and the valet's really in love with his kindergarten girlfriend, who needs 32,450 Euros to cover the cost of her new bookstore. But the bookstore owner doesn't want anything to do with the valet — romantically, that is — till she discovers he's living with a supermodel, since she doesn't know it's really a business arrangement. Which it is and isn't, when the supermodel discovers the valet's really kinda good looking and really quite nice. Jealousy and wackiness ensues." The Valet — starring Gad Elmaleh as the valet, Alice Taglioni as the supermodel, Daniel Auteuil as the businessman, and Kristin Scott Thomas as the (French-speaking) wife — is missing only a laugh track, which isn't to diminish its good times, only to admit that it'll inevitably wind up with an English-language makeover and an 8 p.m. slot on ABC. (Wilonsky) PF

 
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