Film Openings

Week of June 8, 2005

The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3D. (PG) Max (Cayden Boyd) is a young boy who has trouble discerning the difference between fantasy and reality, so he truly believes that his invented superheroes -- Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) and Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley) -- are real, and says as much in front of his entire class. Naturally, this draws mockery from most of them. Eventually, though, the invented heroes prove real and whisk Max away to his dreamworld, which is being menaced by an evil force who closely resembles the school bully (Jacob Davich) and a cyborg named Mr. Electric (George Lopez's face on a CG body). From a story dreamed up by Robert Rodriguez's seven-year-old son, the movie features an inventiveness and a dream logic only a kid could come up with, and the jokes aimed at parents are clever rather than recycled. The 3-D effects are fun, but the red-and-blue glasses aren't comfortable. (Luke Y. Thompson)

High Tension. (R) About a year ago, buzz started building about a French slasher movie in which two girls (Cécile de France and Maïwenn) are terrorized by a maniac in workman's coveralls (Philippe Nahon). But High Tension is not quite the same film that you've heard the raves about. First, there were a few trims made for an R rating. Second, it's been dubbed -- but only partially, as three of the characters are now American, one bilingual, and the rest speak only French. This is as resoundingly stupid as it sounds, and serves only to distance the viewer with unintentional campiness rather than make things more accessible. On the plus side, the gore effects by veteran Giannetto De Rossi are intense. High Tension often feels like a '70s exploitation movie in the best sense; unfortunately, the ending is so bad that it mars everything that comes before. Seek out the import DVD rather than send Lions Gate the message that atrocious dub jobs are acceptable. (Thompson)

It's All Gone Pete Tong. (R) Writer-director Michael Dowse's delightful mockumentary is a work of fiction positing itself as a true-story biography of a legendary Ibiza-based DJ named Frankie Wilde, who goes deaf from too much noise and drugs. It arrives complete with testimonials from the likes of Paul van Dyk, Carl Cox, Lol Hammond, Pete Tong, and other real-life record-spinners, whose comments are interspersed with tales told by phony folks: the record-label boss who says he's "done harder things than drop a deaf DJ," the biographer who explains in a scholarly deadpan how Frankie lost his hearing, and on and on. This mock doc succeeds because it loves its subject, played with bright eyes and a big heart by British comic-turned-actor Paul Kaye, who plays Frankie as a chain-smoking, coke-snorting, scotch-swilling, scrawny twerp whose plunge from Glowstick Mountain is painful and real, but also comic and sweet. The boy, in his late 30s, at last becomes a man -- an apt metaphor for a club scene built on the idea of eternal youth, at least till the sun comes up and the drugs wear off. (Robert Wilonsky)

Mad Hot Ballroom. (PG) Reviewed in this issue.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith. (PG-13) Reviewed in this issue.

Turtles Can Fly. (Not Rated) No filmmaker working today better exemplifies the great humanist tradition of Italian Neo-Realism than the gifted Kurdish-Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi, whose movies -- A Time for Drunken Horses, Marooned in Iraq, and now Turtles Can Fly -- deal with the plight of the Kurdish people, especially its children. Painful to watch and impossible to forget, these films do more than simply tell stories; they bear witness. Turtles Can Fly focuses on a group of children, many of them orphaned, who live in a small rural village, in the weeks leading up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Their leader, a precocious teenager nicknamed "Satellite," becomes smitten with a young refugee who shows up one day with her armless older brother and a young blind child. Wide, steady camera shots and extraordinary performances from the non-professional cast give the film a documentary feel. That it showcases the Kurdish people's remarkable resiliency and vitality, as well as their boundless pain and suffering, is the only thing that makes this film bearable. (Jean Oppenheimer) TV

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