Opens Fri., March 5, at Varsity
Forget about O.J. and the white Bronco. So far as reality TV is concerned, no live televised drama was more compelling than the 2000 busjacking and hostage standoff in Rio de Janeiro that's the subject of this prize-winning Brazilian documentary. In addition to news footage of the four-hour crisis, the film adds interviews with journalists, cops, social workers, and the glue-sniffing street kids of Rio's favelas that spawned the illiterate, high-as-a-kite 21-year-old gunman, Sandro do Nascimento. You may not agree with the film's thesis that he's the real victim, particularly since two hostages were shot in the siege, one fatally. You'll need lots of tolerance for tendentious, idiot academics ("He redefined the social narrative") in a film most easily apprehensible to social workers fluent in Portuguese. But the tension keeps mounting unbearably as Sandro alternately hectors and bonds with his hostages—it's like the Stockholm syndrome in reverse, both harrowing and real. (NR) BRIAN MILLER
A Certain Kind of Death
8 p.m. Fri., March 5–Sun., March 7, at Consolidated Works ($5–$7, 500 Boren Ave. N., 206-381-3218)
Unlike Six Feet Under's darkly funny take on the business of dying, this frank documentary from directors Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock (who will introduce the screenings) approaches the L.A. County Coroner's Office without a satiric agenda. We simply observe the similarities and differences in the cases of three men who die in their apartments without any known next of kin. That's the "certain kind of death": unnoticed by anyone save the apartment manager. Disheartening as that may sound, Death reassures us that although these shut-in "decedents" (as the dead are called in coroner-speak) seem alone in the world, they still matter. Why else would the intrepid caseworkers doggedly pursue every conceivable lead to find a family member? Surprisingly, this bureaucratic process is compelling enough to sustain a 70-minute feature; more than that, on the other hand, might be the death of you. NEAL SCHINDLER
Irish Reels Film Festival
Runs Thurs., March 4–Sun., March 14,at multiple venues
I previewed two of the 20-odd titles being shown during this two-weekend mini-fest, which includes a three-film retrospective dedicated to Neal Jordan: The Company of Wolves (1984), Mona Lisa (1985), and The Crying Game (1992)—don't give away the secret!
There are Jews in Ireland? I was as surprised as anyone to learn this fact in the documentary Shalom Ireland. The hour-long doc (screening at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at SAM) isn't particularly well organized in its statistics and chronology, but it's a kick to hear Hebrew prayers being delivered with a brogue. And the subjects interviewed are doubly garrulous and engaging, twice as personable as anyone has a right to be. Although wandering Jews may have reached Ireland during the Middle Ages, initial settlement followed trade routes in the 1700s. Pogroms in Lithuania and other Russian-dominated lands drove subsequent waves of emigration from the late 19th-century onward. Estimates are that the country's Jewish population peaked after World War II at around 5,000 (most in Dublin). Today, one learns after some fascinating stuff about the IRA–Zionist connection, it's dwindled to less than 2,000 with subsequent emigration to the U.S. and Israel, making for some sad synagogue closures and aging congregations.
On a sunnier note, the new comic ensemble piece Intermission opens the fest (7 p.m. Thursday, March 4, at the Harvard Exit) with a speech by Colin Farrell that shows why the bad-boy thespian was snapped up so fast by Hollywood. "Love's not something you can plan for, is it?" he asks, beginning a breakup-induced roundelay of mishaps and broken hearts with ample charisma (and some nifty handling of a shovel). Redeeming himself nicely for S.W.A.T., he plays a petty hooligan who ends up part of an inept bank robbery scheme that chiefly involves a lovelorn grocery-store peon (28 Days Later's Cillian Murphy) and the woman he disastrously dumps (Trainspotting's Kelly Macdonald, worth more than any amount found in the safe). The film, which begins its regular engagement March 26, jumps around briskly among its various plot strands, then sews them up neatly in a satisfying, if predictable, manner. Close on the heels of Farrell, Macdonald's also getting her Hollywood due: Look for her opposite Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in J.M. Barrie's Neverland (expected this fall), in which she plays Peter Pan. B.R.M.
Full schedule, tickets, and information: 206-722-2184 and www.irishreels.org.
Opens Fri., March 5, at Seven Gables
Hollywood is too stupid to make good use of Omar Sharif. In Egypt, he's the king of cool, but nobody since David Lean has had the sense to cast him as anything but a cigar-store Arab or a generically hunky object of Streisand's desire. His Funny Girl character, "Nicky" Arnstein, got the nickname by racing a flashy nickel-plated bike in the Gay '90s bicycling craze; to Hollywood, Sharif was simply a shiny, metallic object.
At last, he gets a worthwhile role—and he's a tarnished 71, and it's a tiny French indie flick with more spirit than script. Sharif plays Ibrahim, a wise old widowed Sufi dude running a hole-in-the-wall grocery in 1960s Paris. It's a movie slum, patrolled by gorgeous, maternal hookers and adorably troubled kids à la early Truffaut. The whole scene is too New Wave for words, and old Ibrahim and his teenage sidekick Momo (superbly morose Pierre Boulanger) both need a new wave in their stagnant lives. Momo was abandoned by his mom, and his dad is a failed businessman whose practice of Judaism amounts to sitting around the apartment in despair. Momo takes comfort from the latest dance craze, the upbeat new rock and roll on the radio (which makes me want to buy the soundtrack), and the hookers, giving one his tattered childhood teddy bear. (Momo's subsequent sexual initiation seems creepy in the context of Mary Kay LeTourneau, but evidently not to the French.)
Given his unlikely bond with the teen, it's tricky not to make Ibrahim seem like a pederast or a Polonius drone. Sharif deftly pulls it off. So does Boulanger, the most promising new kid on screen since Zooey Deschanel. But the script fails them, idly cribbing bits from Godard. Momo wears a bright red shirt, like Bardot's red towel in Contempt. Then Bardot herself appears (played by Isabelle Adjani) to shoot a scene from Contempt on their street, and pretty soon Ibrahim—who doesn't know how to drive—buys a red Alfa like the one she crashes in that movie. Here, instead, the film just runs out of gas. (R) TIM APPELO
Runs Fri., March 5–Thurs., March 11, at Varsity
There are a few obvious assumptions that even the most casual American moviegoer could make about Hong Kong stuntmen: They have preeeeetty high pain thresholds, their work ethic puts most Olympic medalists to shame, and they take their work very seriously. Augment these basic truths with some cool trivia tidbits (the titular Trousers, stunt specialists who honed their craft as adolescent opera school "indentured servants," disciplined themselves via 90-minute handstands), splice in montages of backbreaking, edge-of-reason action, and you've got the makings of a jaw-dropping documentary. Amusingly Hollywoodized director/star Robin Shou (one of the Mortal Kombat series' good guys) delivers all those things, yet he inexplicably juxtaposes his subjects' 15-foot free falls and light-speed martial artistry with an uproariously cheesy, incoherent, dead fucking serious movie-within-the-movie, Lost Time. By the time its avenging protagonist, also played by Shou, is actually offered the advice "What you seek is your target," it's pretty clear that Trousers has lost its own bull's-eye. Memo to Robin: We came for the killer stunts, not the dreck that justifies them. (NR) ANDREW BONAZELLI
Starsky & Hutch
Opens Fri., March 5, at Metro and others
Any movie based on an old TV show is, by definition, lazy. Even judged by those standards, however, Starsky & Hutch is an amazingly lazy movie. The film asks, "Wouldn't it be funny if we made a movie out of Starsky & Hutch?" and then never gets beyond that simple gag. S&H is like a stoner who can't be roused from the couch long after the bong water has evaporated and the television set turned to test-pattern haze. It sets up scenes for Ben Stiller (Starsky), Owen Wilson (Hutch), and Snoop Dog (Huggy Bear) to complete with their supposed comic wit, then collapses back on the cushions, exhausted. Writing would be too much work. Pass me some more Doritos.
Stiller builds upon his now-patented overwound, uptight, stick-up-his-ass intensity by, yes, becoming more intense. (Sample gag: Starsky accidentally binges on coke, thereby making him even more overwound, uptight, and stick-up-his-ass.) Wilson doesn't have to reach for the medicine cabinet for his louche-'lude lassitude; he just coasts in the surf off the film's '70s generic Bay City alongside fellow flotsam Vince Vaughn (the handlebar-'stached Jewish coke kingpin bad guy) and Will Ferrell (in a prison-snitch cameo that would sound funny if I took the time to describe it, but isn't).
From what I recall of the series (which ran from 1975 to '79 and reaches DVD this week), the writing was much better than here. It's easy to snark at '70s kitsch (the perms, the bell bottoms, the Captain and Tennille), yet harder to re-create how the decade unironically left the '60s behind in the tire smoke of a red-and-white V-8 Ford Gran Torino—the movie's real star. The original show's tire peels and soft rock didn't condescend—as does Wilson's brief, wimpy alto cover of the hit song "Don't Give Up on Us" by the original Hutch, David Soul. The show's period appeal, after all, was a goosed-up, loosened-up boomer version of Dragnet: two cops who happened to be regular guys, who took their jobs seriously, but not that seriously. In other words, the show already had a sense of humor about itself, so just what has been added here?
This movie gets the props and wardrobe right (right down to Starsky's army jackets and belted sweaters), but not the attitude. The original Starsky and Hutch were cool and relaxed, whether leaping from fire escapes into conveniently placed alleyway Dumpsters or tossing casual 180-degree handbrake turns into car chases. By contrast, Stiller and Wilson seem desperate, like the entire movie. They've attained their goal, secured the movie rights, permed their hair, and donned their costumes, but have no idea what to do next—whether full-on spoof (like the Brady Bunch movies), try-anything pastiche (like the Charlie's Angels movies), or treating it straight (The Fugitive).
That's the whole problem with the recent wave of misguided '70s nostalgia and misprision: Unlike the '50s, the '70s are an ineffective signifier of kitsch because those times were so ambivalent already. There was optimism (post-Vietnam, post-Nixon) and pessimism (stagflation, oil shocks, etc.) in equal measure. So you've got disco, blow, vintage ski parkas, and AMC Pacers inevitably popping up in S&H, but the movie doesn't know how to read or joke about those codes. The '70s had plenty of bad taste, but S&H is simply bad filmmaking. If the producers and stars had any hopes for this picture, they would've followed the example of the original Gran Torino occupants: Step on the gas, don't look back. (PG-13) B.R.M.