Après Vous

Also: Rize, Tell Them Who You Are, and The Year of the Yao.

Après Vous

Opens Fri., July 8, at Harvard Exit

It's a rare occasion when you encounter a French comedy so bad that midway through, you begin mentally casting the American version with Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Charles Grodin, Martin Short—it really doesn't matter who—just to imagine the remake being bad in a different sort of way. Yet Après Vous is that kind of movie: You'll do anything to distract yourself from the fact that it's gratingly unfunny, and no amount of leg crossing and recrossing, excursions to the snack bar, trips to the rest room, or silently IM-ing friends on your cell phone is going to change that truth.

Daniel Auteuil plays Parisian head waiter Antoine, who rescues unemployed Louis (José Garcia) from a suicide attempt in the park. Naturally he takes the depressed loser home with him, upsetting his girlfriend, but he eventually manages to get Louis a job at his restaurant. That's not enough to raise the sad sack's spirits, so then Antoine must try to find florist Blanche (Sandrine Kiberlain), who broke Louis' heart, in the hopes of getting them together again, thereby returning his own life back to normal. Can you see where this is going? Antoine falls for Blanche, who has zero interest in Louis, who now views his rescuer with Sancho Panza–like devotion. If Louis were to learn Antoine's new secret, he'd probably kill himself. Hilarious.

The whole thing plays like a farce at half-speed. Louis is claustrophobic, so he's afraid of descending into the wine cellar for his new job as sommelier. Antoine keeps buying more and more flowers from Blanche to keep his scheme going. A lost cigarette lighter is inconveniently discovered. Antoine plays a drunk scene. Louis plays a drunk scene. And Blanche just keeps selling flowers, oblivious to the fact these two guys are both idiots. An average rerun of Friends packs in this much plot in its first 10 minutes, while Après Vous grimly stretches it out over 110. With love, Antoine tries to counsel Louis, "You can't force things." The same applies to comedy. (R) BRIAN MILLER

Rize

Opens Fri., July 8, at Meridian and Varsity

Imagine an earthquake, magnitude 7 on the Richter scale, originating just below a pierced belly button and above unbelted, prison-cut pants. This shaking is called krumping, a new and convulsive derivation of hip-hop dance, and it's the subject of the new documentary Rize. Its force radiates outward, shaking all of L.A. from unfashionable South Central. No police cars are called. Nobody gets shot. There is no freeway chase followed by helicopter on KTLA. The only one who seems to notice in the trendy (white) West Side fashion world is photographer David LaChapelle, lately turned to directing music videos, so he knows something about the street— especially when it's crumpling and buckling beneath teenage feet. And the pavement doesn't just crack, it shatters.

"This is our ghetto ballet . . . our storytelling," says Dragon, who leads his own church-based crew of krumpers. The style is an offshoot of old-school clown dancing, originated by children's entertainer Tommy the Clown (all performers go by their stage names, and most are former protégés of Tommy). Looking to be in his 30s, Tommy cheerfully calls himself "the hip-hop dancing clown," and Rize shows him to be good at his work—spilling out of his car for street parties, cranking up the speakers in his trunk, and generally pleasing kids and parents alike. He's clearly an entrepreneur in an area with few economic opportunities (he claims to be a reformed dealer with jail time in his past), and LaChapelle obviously admires him.

Still, LaChapelle is a trend spotter by trade, not a sociologist. Rize is amazing when simply watching the krumping, but less than ordinary when it interviews the krumpers. Too often, his film is all about the abs—lithe, shirtless young dancers, torsos impossibly contorted, pelvises planted low, their limbs popping and locking to the music. Some sequences feel organic—little dance contests on the corner, surrounded by chain-link fences—while others are patently staged, like video shoots. You can feel, particularly when LaChapelle zooms in on the smiling and attractive Miss Prissy, that he wants his Flashdance figure—a star to follow, someone to break out of "Holly-Watts." And you do, too, since there's so little evidence that any of these kids are going to make that leap.

Dragon and a few others have a disciplined, anti-bling philosophy that you can imagine will serve them well when not dancing. Yet Rize shows us too little of their nonkrumping lives and community. (A visit to a chatty old casket dealer suggests avenues that a more sophisticated documentarian would follow.) Arriving soon after Mad Hot Ballroom, Rize means to be similarly uplifting, and its subjects often repeat the same sort of affirmative slogans that, one suspects, were drilled into them during their school days. (It's krumping or gang-banging, they all say, but I'm not sure life is that simple.) Here, however, there are no teachers, and few adults, in evidence. The documentary follows the dancers to a big contest, like Ballroom, but it's staged more like a pro wrestling or American Idol event—not as a graduation requirement. Rize is ultimately about entertainment, not history (which here begins with the Watts and Rodney King riots), and that's a shame. When LaChapelle interpolates some old footage of African tribal dancing with the krumpers, the resemblance is astonishing. You wonder, what tribe, what era, and have the younger dancers seen it? But LaChapelle just drops the connection right there, and you can feel a tradition slipping away. However much you like the dancers, South Central seems more remote than ever. (PG-13) BRIAN MILLER

Tell Them Who You Are

Runs Fri., July 8–Sun., July 17, at Northwest Film Forum

One of the must-sees at SIFF this year, Tell Them is, on its surface, a mesmerizing documentary portrait of cameraman/ filmmaker/political activist Haskell Wexler as he turns 80, by his son, Mark, a fellow filmmaker. In truth, it's something more profound: the attempt by both son and father to fight through years of acrimony to some kind of peace, no matter how late in coming.

Haskell is blazingly clear that he will not be defined by his Oscar-winning, decades-spanning camera work (including Bound for Glory, Coming Home, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) or directing (Medium Cool). He demands nothing less than cinema verité from his son—a document that will reveal something personal, that will come from the head and the heart. Mark is equally clear about his position—"I'm not a fan. I'm the son of a famous father"—yet he's gutsy enough to take the challenge.

That the two can come to any understanding at all is one of the film's miracles, since—professional competitiveness aside—their past is a minefield of unexpressed resentment which began with a young son's realization that his father was having affairs and was cemented when Haskell left Mark's artist mother after 30 years of marriage. Topping things off, Mark's teenage act of rebellion against a father renowned for his left-wing politics was to become—and remain— a Republican.

Mark gets remarkably unfettered insights from Haskell's colleagues, co-workers, and longtime friends, including George Lucas, Martin Sheen, the late, irreplaceable Conrad Hall, John Sayles, and Jane Fonda, who says urgently: "There isn't anything more important than making peace before it's too late." (Her words have extra poignancy now, in the light of her recent autobiography, which reveals how deeply damaged she was by a truly unreachable father.) That Tell Them should reach a moving conclusion—which you'll have to see for yourself—should satisfy even Haskell's definition of direct cinema.

Ultimately this consummate artist's definition of his profession lingers longest: "There is a certain magic to film, and we're the magicians, the cameramen. Now [with video technology] . . . everyone can feel like, 'What the hell, I can do that!' The magician is part of the chemistry, and the chemistry is gone pretty much when you get into video." (R) SHEILA BENSON

The Year of the Yao

Opens Fri., July 8, at Crest

This documentary follows Yao Ming, the towering 7-foot-6-inch Chinese center for the Houston Rockets, through his rookie season (2002–03) in the NBA. It's an inspiring transition to American life, as he deals with the pressure of representing his homeland and the tumult of being a sports celebrity in a brand-new country. The culture clash isn't made easier by the weight of his being the first pick in the NBA draft; then he has to adjust to the much different, more aggressive American game.

Year of the Yao does an excellent job of making us sympathize as Yao is called a bust after his first few dismal performances, and lets us rejoice with him as he goes head-to-head with the dominant Shaquille O'Neal and comes out on top. Yao and his very young-looking Mandarin translator, Colin Pine, truly bond as the latter guides him through the gauntlet of press conferences and the rigors of NBA-style ball. Throughout, Yao maintains the Chinese virtue of modesty. On the court, however, he must learn the in-your-face attitude of American sports; polite, team-oriented Chinese traditions must be reconsidered. As the season and documentary go on, we watch him develop into a contender on the court. Just as important, he grows more comfortable with his instant-icon status in American pop culture. (PG) WESLEY RAHN

 
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