Runs Fri., April 2–Thurs., April 8, at Varsity
Like the working-class Israeli clan it so sensitively depicts, Wings starts out in familiar territory, then makes its way to a place that feels fresh and hopeful. It's about a family struggling to stay together in the face of everyday stresses; the film's insights and rewards, on the other hand, are anything but commonplace. First-time director Nir Bergman also wrote the no-nonsense screenplay, which gives equal attention to widowed matriarch Dafna (the excellent Orli Zilbershatz-Banai), her rebellious 17-year-old daughter Maya (Maya Maron), Maya's troubled brother Yair (Nitai Gvirtz), and the teenagers' two young siblings. This is not the sort of domestic drama that relegates youngsters to lesser roles; as in The Ice Storm, the kids face real dilemmas that figure prominently in the story, since the adults essentially leave them to fend for themselves.
Wings additionally skirts cliché by infusing situations we've seen before—the single mom fighting to make ends meet, the plucky aspiring pop star (Maya)—with the desires and foibles of very specific people. We know Dafna's tough exterior has to yield at some point, but when the cracks begin to show (during the videotaping of a personal ad), the reason is refreshingly mundane: She's lonely, and her loneliness embarrasses her. The winner of nine Israeli Academy Awards, Wings is composed of such small moments, as when Yair and his sometime girlfriend, Iris (Dana Ivgy), negotiate their relationship while sitting nude in an open window. Bergman's auspicious debut compellingly explores Israeli life from an emotional—rather than political— perspective, looking beyond the violence to examine quieter conflicts that are no less crucial. (R) NEAL SCHINDLER
Opens Fri., April 2, at Varsity
Gold begins with a heist gone all wrong. In a great, single-take, agonizingly slow dolly shot, the camera mercilessly frames a weary robber as he kills a jeweler, then sinks out of the frame, revolver poised in his own mouth, as sirens and witnesses wail in the doorway behind. From there, the movie loops back to tell the story that leads to this botched crime.
Alas, despite the Tarantino-esque structure, this is no Pulp Fiction; written by Abbas Kiarostami and directed by Jafar Panahi (the team behind The White Balloon), Gold is more like a restaged Of Mice and Men played by mental-ward patients on Haldol. In fact, the fleshy, hulking Lennie figure, Hussein, is on cortisone for some unspecified ailment, which turns him from a pizza-delivery schlump into a near-expressionless lump. His smaller, chattier cohort, Ali (Kamyar Sheisi), is lively but irritating. (In a remake, John C. Reilly would play the big guy, and Steve Buscemi the small fry.)
Poor proles Hussein and Ali dream of riches; they dream of respect; but mainly they tool around Tehran's teeming traffic on a motorbike, which is about as exciting as things get in this film after the opening scene. When a carriage-trade jeweler offends their touchy sense of dignity, you know where things are headed.
As Hussein, Hossain Emadeddin is suitably stolid, an unwitting ox being lead to slaughter by Iran's corrupt theocracy. In a long, tedious scene, Hussein is detained by the police while they raid an upper-class party of boozing, dancing teenagers; this, Kiarostami and Panahi imply, is where Iran's hard-earned tax rials are going to waste. Maybe the dosage is wrong on Hussein's meds. Maybe the army owes him a pension for past service and possible war injuries. Maybe the injustice of the system conspires to keep the poor in their place. Or maybe all of those things are true. But unlike The Circle, Panahi's excellent 2000 depiction of Iranian women victimized by the same cruel regime, this movie isn't just depressing, it's depressed. (NR) BRIAN MILLER
The Gospel of John
Opens Fri., April 2, at Meridian
I have good news and bad news about the new Jesus movie directed by Philip Saville (who irreverently calls his and Mel Gibson's films "cruciflicks"). Unlike The Passion of the Christ, this picture is much more sensitive to charges of anti-Semitism. The problem is that John's Gospel, written two generations after Jesus, when the infant church was in mortal combat with traditional Jewish authorities, depicts the latter as bad guys. The other three "synoptic" Gospels go easier on the Jews. So The Gospel's producers decided to base their movie on the Good News Bible, which tries to defuse the anti-Semitism bomb by translating "the Jews" as "the Jewish authorities." More clearly than in the first cut of Gibson's movie, this one—produced by a Jewish Broadway impresario, Garth Drabinsky—depicts the conflict as a matter of sects and violence, not a blanket condemnation of all Jews for all time.
This is commendable. But for me, the bad news outweighs it. The Good News Bible is bad news as translation: It steamrolls all drama and poetry into a literal-minded yet not very faithful paraphrase in modern bland-speak. A King James Version line like "Their throat is an open sepulcher" becomes "They flatter with their tongue." (The Good News version of Macbeth would read, "Tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.") The most painful thing about this movie is not the very mild, PG-13 crucifixion, but having to sit through three infernal hours of Good News monologues. Instead of "Verily, I say unto thee," Jesus yawps, "I am telling you the truth!" maybe 17 times.
Now Gibson's faux-authentic Aramaic/Latin soundtrack is jive—both are just as much a translation from the original Greek as any English version; and the Romans spoke Greek, not Latin. Still, The Passion is more cinematic than The Gospel's relentless procession of monologues and voice-overs by a plummy Christopher Plummer, with lame visual accompaniment.
Henry Ian Cusick is reasonably magnetic and earnest as Jesus. Everyone else is like a painted piece of balsa wood—and even the balsa wood isn't very well painted. The Washington Post reports that Gibson could make $500 million to $700 million in personal profit from The Passion—more than any filmmaker in history but New Age proselytizer George Lucas. As a gambler and filmmaker (if not as a theologian or Christian), he deserves it. Drabinsky deserves purgatory, except he's Jewish and doesn't believe in the place. You can say this, though: The Gospel gives viewers of any faith a vivid sense of what eternity must feel like. (PG-13) TIM APPELO
Kill! Kill! Kill!
Runs Fri., April 2–Sun., April 4, at Little Theatre
In 2002, beloved septuagenarian sexploitation auteur Herschell Gordon Lewis curiously aborted a 30-year absence from film to sequelize his infamous '60s gore classic Blood Feast. The return of the king couldn't have been more celebrated. In Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, macabre country-surf rockers Southern Culture on the Skids plink out the entire soundtrack; and the man who introduced the world to the notion of chicken beaks as sexual aids, John Waters, makes a cameo as a frothing Catholic priest.
Of course, by the time of Lewis' second coming, exploitation cinema had already done it all, and a lot nastier, in Bloodsucking Freaks, I Spit on Your Grave, and Cannibal Holocaust. His second Feast is merely a labor of love, almost inoffensive and even quaint in comparison to such misogynistic bloodbaths, despite its endless eviscerations of half-naked babes.
In the spirit of the original, a creepy statue of Egyptian goddess Ishtar—yes, this is the age of irony, so we get plenty of digs at the infamous 1987 Beatty- Hoffman bomb—compels a caterer named Fuad Ramses III (J.P. Delahoussaye, in full bwoo-hoo-ha-ha-ha mode) to kidnap and slaughter local bridesmaid hotties in preparation for the titular dinner o' entrails. After each relatively graphic throat slit, impalement, and gutting, two comic-relief detectives—the fat one's always eating, the hothead barfs at every crime scene—struggle to pin the slaying on obvious suspect Ramses. The story unfolds thusly, ad nauseam: toplessness, grisly homicide, dismemberment, laughable in-cop-etence.
Screening at 8 p.m. Friday, April 2, BF2 is for HGL–heads only, but it provides a fun intro to this weekend psychotronic series, which includes not only an Al Adamson triple feature, but Kakuei Shimada's debut, in which a man is "raped by a human Tetris block." Hmmm . . . hypothetically, I'd have to opt for Tetris block over chicken beak; for what it's worth, Lewis gives us neither. Today, that almost seems tasteful. (R) ANDREW BONAZELLI
The Prince & Me
Opens Fri., April 2, at Meridian and others
Poor Martha Coolidge. No movie she directs will ever be immune to Valley Girl comparisons. Particularly when they fall as close conceptually as Prince, another mall-oriented romance between mismatched teens. Yet while the 1983 Girl typified, and hyperbolized, the language, fashion, and music of early-'80s suburban America and, to a lesser degree, West Coast new-wave punk, Prince is less a cultural document than just another formula flick. At least it's one that works. Julia Stiles couldn't seem more natural as a Wisconsin farm girl with med-school dreams. And while Coolidge certainly hasn't discovered another Nicolas Cage in Luke Mably (plucked straight from the ranks of English television), he suits up well as a charming and handsome but spoiled, Lamborghini-racing Danish prince who's the fish out of water at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Unlike Girl, in which the disapproval of the heroine's friends initially kept her apart from her wrong-side-of-the-tracks beloved (Cage), here all the friction is due to Stiles' ambitions. She's a hardworking, independent young womyn with something to prove and little time for quixotic frivolity—or love. Twenty- one years after Girl, peer pressure means nothing compared to the MCATS, making Stiles a stronger, more endearing protagonist. As for the formula stuff, audiences will be treated to a tractor load of flirty banter and prince-on-the-farm/farm-girl-in-the-castle scenarios that are legitimately sweet and entertaining, if only because Stiles and Mably have great chemistry. On DVD, it'll be a fun slumber-party watch for sure, one that plays, literally, into the prince-on-a- white-horse fantasy without being overtly chauvinist. Yet Prince still lacks Girl's enduring electricity, and no one will remember its flimsy soundtrack 21 years from today. (PG) KATIE MILLBAUER