SIFF Week 1: Picks and Pans

Thursday, May 207 p.m., Benaroya HallThe Extra ManSome years we recommend the SIFF opening gala for the movie, other times for the party. And tonight the following food and drinks at Benaroya Hall sound excellent. It's not that we dislike Kevin Kline, Paul Dano, and John C. Reilly in this comedy of lonely New York oddballs. All three are funny in their various maladjusted ways: Kline as an asexual prig who precariously survives as a walker of blue-haired Upper East Side widows; Dano as the sexually confused college grad who fancies himself a Fitzgerald hero; and Reilly as the silent, Sasquatch-haired troll who lives beneath their stairs. But the original 1998 Jonathan Ames novel was pretty slight; and the best directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini can do with the material is leap from one shaggy episode to the next. They don't look for depth in these Odd Couple antics, because, unlike their American Splendor, there isn't any. Dano must grow up; Kline does aerobics to classical music; and Reilly eventually speaks (sings, even). The whimsy is so lacquered with retro '70s nostalgia that it's a shock when Dano pulls out a cell phone or goes to work in an office equipped with computers and Katie Holmes. (The latter is quite amusing as a selfish hippie chick eventually bitten in the ass by her Dave Matthews Band philosophy.) With uncertain release prospects, this may be your only chance to see The Extra Man in a theater. But did we mention the party? (NR) BRIAN MILLERFriday, May 214 p.m., NeptuneAir DollA fairy tale about an inflatable sex doll that comes to life? It's not the first thing you'd expect of contemplative Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Nobody Knows, Still Walking), but his approach to adapting this manga story is tender, not tawdry. The doll, played by Korean actress Bae Doo-na (The Host), is a wide-eyed innocent who experiences the world with awe. Like Pinocchio, Nozomi wants to be human, particularly when she falls for a clerk at the local video store, where she takes a job while her owner is away. "I found myself with a heart," she says, "a heart I was not supposed to have." Air Doll repeats those sentiments more often than it needs to, and the pervasive melancholy—aren't we all empty on the inside, just like her?—may be too Japanese and too slow for some tastes. But Kore-eda provides jolts of humor and weirdness: Nozomi gets no pleasure from sex (after which her rubber vagina is removed and cleaned), but is brought to orgasm when reinflated through the valve where her belly button should be. Around her, as in Nobody Knows, are lonely urbanites locked in their isolated routines. (Her owner is equally sad, not gross; shocked when his sex toy talks back to him, he buys a newer, more compliant model.) Yet still Nozomi wants to walk among them, and throws away her air pump. Even if she's a throwaway product, she wants to join a throwaway society. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 9:30 p.m. Mon., May 24.)4 p.m., Pacific PlaceCastaway on the MoonDumped, in debt, and down on his luck, businessman Kim Seong-geun decides to end it all and jump off a bridge. His bad luck continues when, instead of drowning, he washes up on Bam Island, a nature preserve in the Han River. He becomes Robinson Crusoe right in the middle of Seoul, and soon realizes he's been a selfish prick all his life. With a tone like Office Space meets Lost meets Into the Wild, Lee Hey-jun's romantic comedy then reaches across the river to a reclusive shutterbug who takes pictures of the city from her window. Her other interests include eating grotesque amounts of canned corn, running around in a motorcycle helmet,lying compulsively on social-networking websites, Blingee.com,and sleeping on bubble wrap. Needless to say, the two immediately fall in love, despite the river between them. I'm not usually a big fan of quirky romances (ever since Zach Braff ruined them for everyone), but Castaway is kooky and endearing. Watching it, I grew a ridiculous, possibly unhealthy emotional connection with: a black-bean flavor packet for ramen noodles, a paddleboat built and painted to look like a duck, and a scarecrow made from Kim's tattered suit and a coffee tin. (NR) A.J. TIGNER (Also: Neptune, 9:30 p.m. Sun., May 23; Everett Performing Arts Center, 9:15 p.m. Wed., June 2.)6:30 p.m., Pacific PlacePrince of TearsPrince of Tedium is more like it. The postscript to this handsome but extremely tangled melodrama tells us that 3,000 were executed and far more jailed during the "White Terror" purge of suspected Communists in '50s Taiwan. Settled at a rural airbase, for what's assumed to be a short stay before reclaiming the mainland, the Sun family has two small daughters by different mothers. Sun, a pilot, remarried after his first wife died during the Chinese revolution. He and his new wife, Ping, are soon denounced by his scheming old friend, called Uncle Ding, whom we know is evil because of his burned, disfigured face. Eventually the daughters are separated: one under the care of Uncle Ding (boo! hiss!), the other protected by rich, beautiful Madame Liu (once the BFF of Ping). Everyone's got secrets piled on secrets in Prince of Tears, which draws its name from a fairy tale that's constantly read and referenced here by two generations of women. (The Prince, it seems, was a closet liberal, making the book samizdat.) Meanwhile, a narrator constantly tells us what director Yonfan can't be bothered to show. Well before the movie's late, left-field revelations, you're ready to turn the final page on Prince of Tears. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 1 p.m. Sun., May 23; Admiral, 9:15 p.m. Wed., May 26.) 7 p.m., UptownSoul KitchenThis surefire crowd-pleaser from Fatah Akin shares the multicultural German setting of his intense prior dramas (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven), only it's an entirely straightforward comedy. Co-writer Adam Bousdoukos plays a harried, shaggy restaurateur, Zinos, whose rich German girlfriend has just taken a job in China. His eatery, called Soul Kitchen, is located in an old warehouse he owns in industrial Hamburg, where food is brutally fried into submission. Zinos stinks of grease, and he knows it. Sex via Skype is a hassle; so should he sell the building and fly to join his honey in Shanghai? Before he gets the chance, Akin throws every comic complication in his way: a thieving brother newly sprung from jail (Moritz Bleibtreu); a volatile yet talented new chef (Birol Ünel, the star of Head-On); the sudden offer of an old friend to buy the warehouse; unwelcome visits from the health inspector and tax collector; and a slipped disc that has poor Zinos groaning and limping through each new misadventure. With its jukebox soundtrack, Soul Kitchen is thoroughly light, enjoyable, and conventional. Early on, chef Ünel shows how diner fare and humble condiments can be chopped up, garnished, redressed, and presented as fusion cuisine. The movie performs the same trick. Also: Extra points for the Udo Kier cameo. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 1 p.m. Sun., May 23.)7:30 p.m., AdmiralLetters to Father JacobOld blind priest. Empty rural church. No parishioners. Leaky rectory roof. Then a female ex-con is released from jail to live there and read Father Jacob's letters aloud to him. You can see where this is going. Yet this Finnish two-hander is, despite being utterly predictable, powerful in its economy—like a short story by Tolstoy. As the lumpy, middle-aged Leila, Kaarina Hazard refuses to ask for audience sympathy, just as her character has refused to ask for pardon or parole after serving 12 years for killing a man. "I won't be staying long," she sniffs. Heikki Nousiainen's cleric is the weaker of the pair, and not just physically. His faith depends on the dwindling postal deliveries. "If people don't ask for help," he says, "it means I'm no use anymore"—meaning to God and correspondents both. Handsomely shot in widescreen, alternating between shadowy close-up and forest vistas, Klaus Härö's drama is as familiar as a psalm. You already know the story, but it moves you still. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Pacific Place, 11 a.m. Fri., May 28 and 9:30 p.m. Sat., May 29.) 9:30 p.m., AdmiralK-20: The Fiend With 20 FacesOnly 20 faces? Why not 19 or 21? And how many faces should a fiend have in an alternative-history, post–World War II Tokyo, where Japanese fascism was never defeated? K-20 is the moniker for a supervillain whose masks allow him to impersonate anyone he likes. His domain is a CG-enhanced world of gyrocopters, fountain pens, fedoras, zeppelins, and mysterious new technologies (only not atomic, because that would upset the mood). Retro adventure flicks don't always work, but K-20 seems to have learned its lessons from The Rocketeer, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and the Indiana Jones franchise. Things are played briskly and straight as a circus acrobat and a cop try to unmask evil K-20, who's plotting to steal a Tesla-derived directed-energy weapon that would allow him to...rule the world! This villain owes a bit to Fantômas and Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse; and Lang's class-divided Metropolis is also a plain influence. Our handsome hero (Takeshi Kaneshiro of House of Flying Daggers) is a man of the people who eventually enlists the denizens of Thieves Alley to stop perfidious K-20. Cliffhangers and surprise twists abound, and the acrobat and K-20 are given many opportunities to bound and battle from the roofs of art-deco skyscrapers. It's as if the sport of parkour were invented in 1949 Japan. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Neptune, 9 p.m. Sat., May 29; Kirkland Performance Center, 9:30 p.m. Fri., June 4.)9:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceBus PalladiumEven if you typed "French '80s rock tragic rise fall cliché" into Google, you couldn't find a more perfectly predictable drama than Christopher Thompson has crafted. The two childhood pals who fancy themselves "Mick and Keith, or John and Paul"; the beauty who comes between them; the quarreling at the sound check; the big record deal they're this close to landing; the volatile, risk-taking singer on smack; the soundtrack samplings from Bowie, the Band, the Stones—Bus Palladium has all that and more. (Its title comes from an actual Paris club where the band hangs out and plays.) The four members of Lust play songs that sound 10 years behind their time. This being mid-'80s France, you'd never know the Pet Shop Boys, The Cure, and the Smiths were actually topping the charts. But the retro tunes by Yarol Poupaud are originals written for the movie, which doesn't subtitle the lyrics. Thus, when we get to the big, sad ballad at the end—100 long minutes after the movie begins at a funeral (for whom, you can easily guess)—the supposed emotional climax is lost unless you speak French. The whole tedious affair is anchored in baby-boomer nostalgia, as the rockers debate whether the Stones were better before or after Brian Jones' death. One thing is certain: Lust sucked before or after anyone died. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Admiral, 8 p.m. Sun., May 23; Neptune, 4 p.m. Tues., May 25.)Saturday, May 2211 a.m., EgyptianCity of Life and DeathChinese director Lu Chuan scored a hit at SIFF '05 withKekexili: Mountain Patrol, which trod the disputed terrain of Tibet. Now he tackles the notorious 1937 Nanking Massacre (aka the Rape of Nanking) and dares to suggest that maybe not all Japanese soldiers were monstrous rapists who sustained themselves on Chinese baby bone marrow. Stoic Commander Lu (Liu Ye) initially seems the inspiring hero (to viewers and refugees alike), then you realize that death will come to most in this unsparing, episodic film, shot in black-and-white. New characters appear and disappear, including a child who survives the mass killings beneath the cover of the dead. In vain, doting father Tang gives his fortune to the Japanese to spare his family (you can guess how that turns out). There's real-life hero John Rabe (John Paisley), the German Nazi businessman who stalled executions and saved more than 600 civilians. And though some Chinese viewers have objected, here's the flawed, remorseful Sgt. Kadokawa (Hideo Nakaizumi), who falls desperately in love with a Chinese sex slave. Though Lu treats him sympathetically, his film brutally renders the Japanese atrocities: mass graves filled with living captives, prisoners bayoneted, hospital patients shot in their beds, bodies washed out with the tide. The award-winning 2007 Nanking covered the same ground from a drier documentary perspective. City of Life and Death doesn't sensationalize this horrific historical event. But then, it doesn't need to. (NR) A.J. TIGNER (Also: Neptune, 6:30 p.m. Tues., May 25; Everett Performing Arts Center, 8:30 p.m. Sun., May 30.)11 a.m., NeptuneChef of South PolarA long film (125 minutes) set in a remote place, Chef of South Polar initially seems like an Antarctic ordeal—that we'll have to endure the petty quirks and peeves of an eight-man Japanese atmospheric research crew, but nothing eventful will ever occur. (It's the same setup as The Thing, only without the monster.) There are little bits of humor as the men perform aerobics to old VHS tapes (it's 1997), violate bathroom-privacy protocols, steal extra minutes in the shower, or stage midnight raids on the kitchen's dried-noodle supply. Flashbacks to Japan also explain how the chef (Masoto Sakai) was a reluctant, last-minute replacement on the yearlong mission. And though he prepares some lavish meals, the memoir-inspired Chef isn't exactly a foodie film. Rather—and this realization is a long time coming—it's about the social bond of eating together. For 12 months, eight disparate men share three meals a day, or meet for cocktails afterward, or pour cherry syrup on the icy desert to scrape up their dessert with spoons. Even as their beards grow unruly, girlfriends dump them by phone, and all succumb to cabin fever in varying degrees, the rituals of a common table keep the crew from growing crazy. Quiet, comic, and gradually profound, the movie sums up its message in a video conference with schoolchildren back home. Says the chef, "Preparing delicious meals makes people happy." It's that simple; that's how they survive. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Harvard Exit, 7 p.m. Mon., May 24; Admiral, 6:30 p.m. Wed., May 26.)11 a.m., Pacific PlaceHuachoIf you're patient, and I mean patient, there's a touching payoff to this very quiet, almost documentary-style portrait of a rural Chilean family, three generations living under one humble roof. But to get there means watching the son beg to play his rich friend's PSP video game at school. The mother does much cooking and cleaning, then travels by bus to the city to exchange a nice dress at a department store. A cheesemaker, the grandmother prepares her wares and spends a long time waiting for haggling customers by the side of a dusty road. And we also accompany the grandfather out into a pasture, where he puts up a few fence posts, drinks water, eats, takes a siesta, and stares contemplatively at the sky. Huacho is more ethnodoc than drama, and director Alejandro Fernández Almendras basically lets his hand-held camera follow a nonprofessional cast performing their daily duties. Their labors are dignified but not romanticized. And gradually a story emerges. Huacho is the drama of an unpaid electricity bill, a small insult to a family proud of its refrigerator, TV, and cell phone. And when the family gathers to eat at the end of a long, hard day, old Don Cornelio tells a story. "Time takes its toll," he says. After raising his clan out of poverty, he's tired. Then a small miracle occurs, and everyone prepares for bed. There'll be more work to do in the morning. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Harvard Exit, 9:15 p.m. Sun., May 30.)1 p.m., UptownFrom Time to TimeThe year is 1944, and 13-year-old Tolly's father has gone missing in World War II. With his mother away, Tolly is sent to live at the haunted country estate of his previously wealthy grandmother, Mrs. Oldknow (Maggie Smith). "We once had a Vermeer," she sighs. She claims the family jewels were stolen, and her stories send Tolly time-traveling back to the early 19th century, where he meets his ancestors and searches for the lost fortune. This fanciful adventure story is directed and adapted by Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for writing Gosford Park; its basis is the 1958 children's novel The Chimneys of Green Knowe. If you haven't read it, which is likely, think The Sixth Sense meets Harry Potter. Somehow, Tolly races back and forth between present and past to apprehend the jewel thief. Could it be Caxton, the diabolical butler? Or Sefton, a dead relative who looks exactly like Nate Archibald from Gossip Girl? Smith, ever the old pro, has Mrs. Oldknow accept Tolly's time-traveling (or hallucinating) with nonchalance. (The boy sees ghosts? Fine. Let's have some tea.) For us, however, the movie's tidy conclusion leaves it frustratingly unclear as to whether Tolly can distinguish the living from the dead. This may be more mystifying to younger viewers than the mystery of the stolen jewels. (NR) ERIN K. THOMPSON (Also: Everett Performing Arts Center, 1 p.m. Sun., May 30; Kirkland Performance Center, 1 p.m. Sun., June 13.)1:30 p.m., AdmiralTurtle: The Incredible JourneyThough wonderfully photographed and given fulsome narration by Miranda Richardson, this eco-doc will be tolerable only to parents with children clamoring for a place to go because the zoo is closed. With a title that gives the whole plot away, the concept is infinitely expandable (expect soon to see Zebra: The Incredible Journey, Prairie Dog: The Incredible Journey, etc., etc.). So as journeys go, yes, that of the loggerhead turtle is incredible, as it drifts and swims this way and that across the Atlantic, just like Little Nemo (whose Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres are missed here). Its life cycle lasts decades, and since one loggerhead—male or female—is pretty much indistinguishable from the rest, director Nick Stringer can effectively compress his lessons with a cast of thousands. The effect is like Wild Kingdom bathed in estrogen, a video game in slo-mo, since our gentle she-turtle is buffeted among many hazards (including sharks, oil tankers, floating trash heaps, and long-line fishermen). Your kids are duly warned about "the great warming of the Earth and the rising of the seas" that threatens both turtles and man, but things never get too scary for younger viewers. And even parents may cheer when our heroine turns the tables and starts gobbling those nasty, stinging Portuguese men-o-war. Seriously, fuck you, jellyfish. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Neptune, 7 p.m. Wed., May 26; Pacific Place, 11:30 a.m. Sat., May 29.)2 p.m., NeptuneAmplified SeattleThis hour-long documentary comprises 13 vignettes of up-and-coming Seattle bands, a nonfiction companion to MTV's online series $5 Cover: Seattle, directed by Humpday's Lynn Shelton. And though Amplified director John Jeffcoat is best known for his 2007 SIFF prize-winning romantic comedy Outsourced, he delivers a surprisingly thorough once-over of this town's hip-hop, country, metal, and indie-rock scenes. Even the most devout Capitol Hillbilly and Nu Ballard hiptard will find an anecdote or two of interest. We see the parents of THEESatisfaction's Catherine Harris-White grappling with their daughter's sexuality. Here's the Moondoggies' Caleb Quick discussing the near-fatal car accident that made him realize it was time to marry his girlfriend. For the uninitiated, Amplified provides a primer on the varied sounds of the city, if not the infrastructure that supports them. (NR) CHRIS KORNELIS (Also: 9:15 p.m. Wed., May 26.)3:45 p.m., AdmiralThe ActressesThe gimmick behind The Actresses is that its well-known Korean stars are playing catty, insecure, vulnerable versions of themselves. As six women gather for what turns out to be a gabby all-night photo shoot on Christmas Eve, it's like an All About Eve imagining of what transpires behind those Vanity Fair cover spreads. (When they conjecture who their American counterparts might be, names like Susan Sarandon, Cameron Diaz, and Drew Barrymore are tossed out. To that list, we'd add Jessicas Alba and Biel.) Some are rising in their careers, while others are graying into TV roles. Sniffs the eldest of a tardy glamour-puss, "She needs to come late, to think she's a star." Food is ordered, too much champagne is drunk, birthdays lied about, and plastic surgery discussed. Their showbiz complaints aren't surprising—"We need wives instead of men"—but their fleeting camaraderie feels genuine. And the performers are terrifically engaging; you want to look them all up on IMDb.com. (For American viewers, the most recognizable face may be Go Hyun-jung from Woman on the Beach and—see below—Like You Know It All.) And there's sadness: After the photos are taken, it's unlikely these six will ever meet again to laugh and cry together. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Uptown, 7 p.m. Mon., May 24; Egyptian, 4 p.m. Sun., May 30.)4 p.m., NeptuneRaptIn most kidnapping dramas, the hostage breaks down, opens up, recalls his love for family, or bonds with his captors (aka Stockholm syndrome). But none of those things happens in this cold, unsettling study of a wealthy businessman (Yann Attal, My Wife Is an Actress) who refuses to crack even after a finger is sliced off. Doesn't he want to see his family again? Only on his own terms, it emerges, since he'd previously kept most of his life closed to them (illicit sex, gambling, etc.). Graff, a high-born tycoon, now shares his company with a board of directors equally devoted to its best interests. When Graff's scandalous private life is revealed during his two-month ordeal, the company's stock goes down. As the ransom is repeatedly renegotiated downward and the police bungle and interfere, it becomes apparent that Graff's return would be welcomed by few apart from his teen daughters. Meanwhile, the gang holding him grows increasingly desperate to release this public-relations problem—he gives crooks a bad name! Director Lucas Belvaux's ambitious crime Trilogy played SIFF in 2002, and this is an entirely more compact work. The film is procedural and efficient, like a business, leaving no room on the ledger for sentiment or empathy. "I don't judge, and I won't be judged," Graff insists. And, in a telling moment that passes for tenderness, he admits, "I'd like to see my dog." (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 6:30 p.m. Sun., May 23; Admiral, 9:30 p.m. May 25.)4:30 p.m., EgyptianNorthwest ConnectionsShort-film packages are scheduled for the festival's opening weekend, most of them at SIFF Cinema. But this local compendium plays at the Egyptian, and two titles are worth the ticket. Andrew Allen's animated The Thomas Beale Cipher loosely concerns a hidden trove of gold in the Sierras, but mainly takes place on a train whose passengers bump and jostle. The patterns from herringbone suits and floral dresses morph and bleed over the frame, which is scratched and blotched as if with bad emulsion. The whole colorful, digital collage takes a torn-newspaper approach to invented history, like a faded document from a time that never was. A violent, funny study in greed and chance, Your Lucky Day includes Lynn Shelton and Sean Nelson among its cast. With a winning $156 million lottery ticket at stake, six people in a convenience store turn against one another, with bloody results. Director Dan Brown takes a very cynical view of human nature; the carnage is rendered with polish and pizzazz unusual for short films at SIFF. (NR) BRIAN MILLER4:30 p.m., Harvard ExitQueen of the SunIsn't it about time we gave Michael Pollan his own food-and-health TV channel? Seriously, he's in every food documentary out there: Food Fight, Food, Inc....and now this film about bees suffering from colony collapse disorder (CCD). It's a subject he and other journalists have covered extensively, and if you can get past the New Age tendencies of Queen of the Sun, it succinctly lays out the causes of our present beepocalypse. Recite after me, class: industrial food production, loss of genetic diversity, pesticides instead of organic farming, and the demise of local agriculture. (Today, bees are trucked around the country, never getting a chance to recover from their labors in a local habitat.) "We depend on [bees] to pollinate 40 percent of our food," says Pollan. "Monoculture is the original sin of agriculture." All of which is both alarming and, from his mouth, persuasive. But director Taggart Siegel pushes things further, making bees the metaphor for our whole ailing planet and letting dubious holistic sources praise the "magical properties" of honey. We should live cooperatively like the bees, says another guy: "It's not about getting ahead." (Which sounds dangerously close to socialism!) More effective are little profiles of "biodynamic farming" and rooftop beekeepers in London and New York, who tend their hives like backyard chickens. Though in New York, such apiary activity isn't technically legal. Yo, it's outlaw! (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 11 a.m. Sun., May 23.)4:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceTwisted RootsTwisted Roots is an appropriate name for this sprawling family drama, featuring a large cast of characters drawn together by the threat of a debilitating hereditary illness. Although the film centers on Huntington's Disease–afflicted patriarch Mikko, it earnestly reaches into issues of infertility, financial woe, and family abandonment (plus much driving around crying in the ever-present Finnish rain). Mikko's doe-eyed 15-year-old daughter Pihla dances through the pressures of independence and pushy boys wearing thick-rimmed glasses. She provides a strikingly honest and up-to-date case study in teen sexuality. (And she even manages to sneak in a musical number, too!) Meanwhile, her older stepbrother Sakari simultaneously curses his father's domineering expectations and attempts to repair his absentee relationship with his own children. And while the tone is mostly somber and realistic, sequences involving 8-year-old Lumi, whom Mikko adopted from China, are almost magical as this innocent explores cold urban Helsinki. As she floats through the air or watches an old photograph come to life, the whimsy provides a respite from the good-old-fashioned Scandinavian bleakness. Twisted Roots is a poignant look at a likable family with all-too-believable problems. (NR) A.J. TIGNER (Also: Uptown, 9:30 p.m. Tues., May 25; Neptune, 9:30 p.m. Wed., June 2.)7 p.m., EgyptianI Am LoveThis extravagant melodrama, starring Tilda Swinton, is both ridiculous and sublime. As the Russian-born trophy wife of a rich industrialist in Milan, she falls in love with her son's friend, a chef perhaps 25 years her junior. The doomed, mad passion is like Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary reduced to operatic essentials: big family meals, mansions, funerals, parties, ecstatic scenes of nature, food, and sex. Indeed, director Luca Guadagnino receives a huge assist in the insistent, thrumming score by American composer John Adams. The film gets by on very little dialogue as Emma—yes, just like Flaubert's heroine—is propelled by forces she knows she should resist. Guadagnino charts her affair with the changing seasons. In high summer, as Emma and her lover rut in the woods, the camera cuts away to insects and verdant green life: Nature will have its way, no matter the constraints of family, wealth, and propriety. I Am Love is luxuriously shot like a Vanity Fair spread, but the story isn't European lifestyle porn. It's about a woman who's suppressed her old identity, then discovers new passion will cost her her family. (R) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4:15 p.m. Sun., May 23; Everett Performing Arts Center, 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 28.)7 p.m., Harvard ExitCrab TrapA taciturn stranger wanders out of the jungle and into the Colombian coastal village of La Barra. He's come because he wants to leave. He needs a boat. He goes to see Cerebro, who as leader of all illegal activities in La Barra is an influential and respected man. But nothing can happen until the fishermen return. We're given no clue who the stranger, Daniel, is, or why he wants to leave, or for where; though bits of TV news reports overheard throughout the film, all about violence and guerrillas and paramilitary operations, hint that that might have something to do with it. Daniel befriends a young girl, who wants to go with him. (Their dialogue is like some kind of rainforest Samuel Beckett: Are you OK? / Where were you? / Around. / Got bitten by mosquitoes? / Did you go to school? / Are you going to buy lunch from my mom? / Any news about the motorboat?) And this bearded foreigner, who wants to turn his shack into a "disco hotel" and who plays his speakers too loud, irritating everyone—what's his story? And are all these Casablanca tropes intentional? I kid, but I found Crab Trap mesmerizing. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT (Also: Pacific Place, 4:30 p.m. Mon., May 24.)7 p.m., NeptuneNowhere BoyMeet the Beatles. John Lennon's teen years are the focus of this very clumsy melodrama by Sam Taylor-Wood. Its few virtues—Liverpool period detail, Kristin Scott Thomas as Lennon's strict aunt, Anne Marie Duff as his unstable mother—are overwhelmed by the a-ha moments: Look, there's Paul! And John's first guitar, his first band...oh, and here comes George! (Ringo, as ever, remains a footnote.) Pretty soon the Quarrymen have formed and destiny beckons and they're headed to Hamburg with a new name and you want to dial up those early tunes on your iPod or watch A Hard Day's Night instead. But instead Taylor-Wood bludgeons us with one Oedipal screaming match after another: Lennon (the stolid, miscast Aaron Johnson) was abandoned by his mother, raised by his aunt, never knew his father, and suffered one family tragedy after another. As a result, when she comes back into his life after 15 years, Lennon clings to mother Julia and starts resenting her reliable sister Mimi, who raised him from toddlerhood. His anger borders on misogyny, and a better film might've explored that caustic side of Lennon's personality. But this is an origin story, the creation of a myth, and Nowhere Boy insists on healing the wounds instead of peeling back the scabs. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 1:15 p.m. Sun., May 23; Admiral, 7 p.m. Thurs., May 27.)9:15 p.m., Harvard ExitBetween Two WorldsCome visit Sri Lanka! Land of suicide bombers, sunny beaches, and three decades of civil war! That the Tamil Tigers were recently crushed by majority government forces, you may know. Beyond that, not much context is required to appreciate Vimukthi Jayasundara's violent fairy tale about his homeland. We find a guy in an orange shirt lying on a beach, smoking, covered with crawling crabs, who eventually rouses himself to climb a cliff and go to the city. There, smashed TV sets litter the streets, and he joins in the mob violence. Later, shirtless, he travels to the countryside, where his sister-in-law tends his bruised eye with her breast milk. He's menaced by unseen troops, has dreams—unless they're real—of family violence, and visits an enigmatic prophet by the lake. ("One can see today what happened in the past.") Outside his story, a chorus of two fishermen tell the fable of a prince hiding in a tree hollow who might join—or bring an end to—the conflict dividing his land. Shot in long, elegant takes, Between Two Worlds is both beautiful and baffling. The film wavers between city and country, coast and interior, war and peace. Its protagonist (Thusitha Laknath) could be a ghost, an avenger, or a witness. That the subtitled language is Sinhalese, not Tamil, does nothing to lessen the film's disturbing ambiguity. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: SIFF Cinema, 5 p.m. Mon., May 24; Everett Performing Arts Center, 1 p.m. Mon., May 31.)9:30 p.m., NeptuneBodyguards and AssassinsToo many bodyguards, too many assassins. Too many pigtails flying in 1906 Hong Kong. Too many fruit stands smashed. Too many patriotic slogans ("We cannot fight divided"). Too many flying crossbow arrows, corrupt cops, silent ninjas, and careening rickshaws. Too many actors (Donnie Yen, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Leon Lai, Nicholas Tse, etc., etc.). And at 138 minutes, Bodyguards packs in too much historical scheming before its endless final showdown. In brief: Revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-Sen is returning from exile to meet with factions prepared to overturn the declining, British-dominated Qing Dynasty (which collapsed in 1911). Imperial assassins intend to kill Dr. Sun, so a wealthy publisher/businessman, Master Li, forms a brigade of bodyguards—mostly peasants and riffraff, plus one giant former monk from the Shaolin Temple, the ringer of the group. (Meanwhile, Li's 17-year-old son wants to join the dangerous mission instead of going to Yale, where kung fu wasn't yet a major.) The bodyguards and assassins can be hard to sort out; though the former, when slain, are identified with tombstone elegies—and most everyone dies. The action isn't hard-R Tony Jaa stuff, and the politics are porridge designed for mainland Chinese consumption. Presumably there's a thread of truth to Dr. Sun's visit, though the CG-painted blood sprays and wire-socky technology may not have been invented at the time. Leave that for historians to debate. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Egyptian, 6:30 p.m. Tues., June 1.) 9:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceHoly RollersIt's hard to determine which group Holy Rollers considers more villainous: Hasidic Jews, or former Hasidic Jews who con practicing Hasidic Jews into smuggling drugs into the U.S. from Amsterdam. Based on an actual Ecstasy ring based in New York City in the late '90s, this Sundance favorite's failure to render a moral verdict is but one of its many strengths. Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, Adventureland, Roger Dodger) finally breaks out of the "guy casting directors turn to when Michael Cera is unavailable" mold as a rabbinical student led astray; and Justin Bartha, previously known as "the guy one of the Olsen twins dates," nails what it feels like to be on the twitchy downslope of an E-trip. But oh, what a trip up it can be; and the club music in Holy Rollers will make you instantly nostalgic for that ragged little pill. Holy Rollers also proves that Ari Graynor's tendency to walk off with a film while cast in a minor role, as she did with Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, is no fluke. If only real life could be as comfortable as when Eisenberg falls into her lap (literally) after pulling his first all-nighter. (R) MIKE SEELY (Also: 4 p.m. Sun., May 23.)9:45 p.m., EgyptianThe French KissersBecause its lead character jerks off into a sock, has awkwardly intimate interactions with a parental figure, boasts of/is obsessed with sexcapades he's never had, and ejaculates prematurely the first time he takes an interested female to the bone zone, the logical assumption is that The French Kissers is a Gallic American Pie. But really, it's a ton sharper than that, as if American Pie were the dimmest, best-looking member of its cinematic gene pool. Put another way, it's American Pie meets Superbad meets Kids meets Rushmore meets Freaks & Geeks. Sounds great, doesn't it? It is. Only in Kissers, the adults are every bit as on-the-make as their kids. The two generations even party together. A sequel might find them sleeping together, too, if Kissers ends up following the franchise-obsessed Americans down the Piehole. MIKE SEELY (Also: Admiral, 7 p.m. Mon., May 24; Neptune 4:15 p.m. Wed., May 26.)Sunday, May 233 p.m., AdmiralKanikosenThe source novel of this movie about shipboard rebellion was written in Japan's radical '20s, when socialism was sweeping through Europe and workers were demanding their rights. Which, of course, made the ruling class clamp down that much harder during the following decades. Very little in Kanikosen takes place above decks. The miserable, overworked men on a factory ship mainly debate their plight in the bowels of the vessel. ("Our weakness is acceptance!") They sleep in stacked pipes facing the cannery line, onto which giant heaps of writhing crabs are dumped, killed, processed, and turned into commodities. (Symbolism alert.) A cruel foreman comes down occasionally to threaten them. "This is a national enterprise," he screams; "this is a war!" (and the Navy backs him up). To rebel is unpatriotic, a crime against the fascist state. One guy proposes the crewmen hang themselves in protest. Others get lost in daydreams of home, fantasies of winning the lottery. When hauling the nets at sea, two crewmen get lost and visit a Russian ship—it's all dancing and singing and food, a Communist paradise! Realism isn't the point for director Sabu; possibly referencing a recent manga version of Kanikosen, he dresses his villains like yakuza and renders his proles like Tokyo hipsters. If nothing else, the movie will put you off crab for a few weeks. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: Uptown, 9:30 p.m. Thurs., May 27; Egyptian, 8:30 p.m. Mon., May 31.) 5:30 p.m., AdmiralExcitedThis Canadian dramedy about premature ejaculation—no, wait, keep reading!—is so laid-back, so unassuming and understated, so...Canadian that the comedy barely registers. Laugh lines are routinely tossed off or, ahem, swallowed—and that's more cheap double entendre than writer/director Bruce Sweeney put in his entire smirk-free film. (I couldn't help but imagine what sort of noisy Paul Rudd or Will Ferrell vehicle Hollywood would make of the premise.) It makes perfect sense that the lead character, sexually dysfunctional, late-30ish Kevin, manages a golf course—the sport of pastel shirts and whispered commentary. But his quick trigger isn't the only issue he and his on-again, off-again woman friend, Hayaam, have to deal with—there's also his mother, hungry for grandkids. She's the most broadly comic character (think Andrea Martin dialed down from 10 to 4), though not too much a cliché. But don't get me wrong—it all works. With this topic, deadpan is the way to go; and the reticent tone makes the few adult-content moments startling in a rather sophisticated way. (NR) GAVIN BORCHERT (Also: Pacific Place, 7 p.m. Tues., May 25; and 4 p.m. Wed., May 26.)6:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceFarsanSwedish comedy sounds like an oxymoron, until you encounter Josef Fares, whose Jalla! Jalla! and Kopps have been past favorites at SIFF. Far from dour Nordic stereotype, he takes a broad, sunny view of modern, multiethnic Sweden. His father, Jan Fares, plays Aziz, a virile widower in his 60s who decides to remarry. His son and Swedish-born daughter-in-law haven't yet produced any grandchildren (though there's a conspiracy afoot to keep him expecting). Exuding serene male confidence despite his occasionally broken Swedish (reflected in the subtitles), bicycle mechanic Aziz stands up to bullies, tutors his insecure boss on the fine art of macho, and declares he'll marry the first woman he dates. Meanwhile, he and a pal at the bike shop are trying to breed the latter's crippled old dog. Bloodlines must be continued! What else are men supposed to do with themselves? The new European male is too timid, too henpecked, says Aziz. A gentle, sentimental comedy, Farsan scores its biggest laughs with Aziz's "man lessons" to his timorous boss—who learns to leap from moving cars and crush tomatoes with his biceps. Fun fact: The original Swedish title for Farsan—Aziz's family name—was Balls. As in, grow a pair. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4:30 p.m. Tues., May 26; Harvard Exit, 9:15 p.m. Sat., May 29.)6:45 p.m., Harvard ExitThe OathA garrulous cabdriver who was Osama bin Laden's bodyguard in Afghanistan lets loose a possibly revisionist history in this outstanding doc from Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country). Abu Jandal reminisces about his journeys across the porous national borders that tolerate or shelter radical Islamists, his imprisonment by the Yemenis, his apparent rehabilitation, and his guilt over the betrayal that landed his brother-in-law, Salim Hamdan, in Guantánamo, where he became famous for suing Donald Rumsfeld. Today, Abu Jandal moonlights as a (possibly self-appointed) recruiter of young Yemenis to jihad, which he defines so variously that your head hurts. He's a devout Muslim and a loving father who coaches his adorable son to hate America, declares his opposition to the 9/11 attacks one day, then retracts the next. Who is Abu Jandal, and why is he spilling the beans to an American filmmaker? The Oath is a film about a man who is an enigma—and about the confusion, not the clarity, that is the aftermath of 9/11. Genuinely comfortable with complexity, Poitras is a patiently astute observer of telling contradictions, but she doesn't lack for a point of view. The second in a projected trilogy of films plumbing the legacy of 9/11, this usefully meandering documentary lays bare the enduring stain of Guantánamo on American democracy and its ambiguous fallout for radical Islam. Are these two men symbols of Al Qaeda's resilience, or its final irrelevance? Poitras doesn't answer this question—indeed, who could? (NR) ELLA TAYLOR (Also: SIFF Cinema, 4:30 p.m. Tues., May 25.)7 p.m., EgyptianThe FreebieThis likable little indie shares what might be called the Humpday paradox, minus the gay thing. In the new cinema of sexual transgression, the status quo will supposedly be overturned with a bedroom dare...after we talk about it. And then talk after it. In Humpday, one dude wanted to shake up his marriage, the other his life. Here we have a nice married couple in their early 30s: nice L.A. bungalow, nice Prius in the driveway, nice, nice, nice. Only no sex, not in months; they conduct crossword-puzzle races in bed instead. So they resolve, mainly at the suggestion of the husband (Dax Shepard), to give each other a free pass for a one-night stand that "will reignite whatever's lacking in us," says the wife (director Katie Aselton). Sounds fun—it'll be like Date Night plus infidelity! Only, of course, it turns out not to be. And, like Humpday, the big event is mainly an excuse for endless pre- and post-game analysis among themselves and their friends (a standout is Seattle multi-hyphenate Sean Nelson). The Freebie tries to enliven the gab with oodles of editing, skipping around all sides of a very small story. With no credited writer, the script appears to have been outlined and ad-libbed; and the two stars have an comfortable comic rapport together. Though Aselton is married to Mark Duplass (who co-starred in Humpday), it'd be unfair to call The Freebie mumblecore, since it's plotted and has piquant moral urgency. After mocking couples who prefer "a little boat that doesn't rock," these smug marrieds discover they don't know how to swim. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4:30 p.m. Tues., May 25.)9:15 p.m., Pacific PlaceNorthlessThe first 20 minutes of Rigoberto Perezcano's Northless pass in relative silence. This silence is not without purpose, as at the movie's center is the lonely struggle of an abandoned Mexican husband and father to illegally enter America in a quixotic quest to locate his family. Stymied by the authorities and stranded in Tijuana with no money or shelter, he begins assisting a pair of women who run a fruit warehouse located cruelly near the border fence. He soon learns that they too have been similarly abandoned, and grows close to both, albeit separately. Northless (or Norteado) is the very definition of a humble film: It aspires to humbly depict the hunger for human connection among humble people who've been besieged by humbling circumstances. There's not a false note rendered amid the trio of lead actors, and the film is gorgeously shot, if sparsely scripted. In a way, it's like the smarter, shyer baby sister of Y Tu Mamá También, with the gender dynamic reversed. (NR) MIKE SEELY (Also: Uptown, noon Sat., May 29.)Monday, May 247 p.m., NeptuneMount St. EliasFew climbers attempt this 18,000-foot Alaskan peak because it's so close to the North Pacific, which brings terrifying storms with little warning. Trying to ski down the thing, the subject of this Red Bull–sponsored adrenaline doc, actually makes a crazy kind of sense—because you'd want to get off the bastard as fast as possible. Austrian alpinist Axel Naglich leads a 2007 attempt to schuss the mountain from tip to tideflats; his well-supported expedition includes a token American who wimps out—like Bill Paxton in Aliens—after experiencing full Alaskan climbing conditions (wind, whiteout, snow cave, etc.). The attempt is actually broken into two seasons and involves flying to the 9,000-foot level, which may dismay some purists. And for the record, though the filmmakers aren't eager to admit it, the mountain has been skied before. But Naglich is one ballsy dude, cajoling his teammates upward and downward in German and English. And if the slopes vary from 45 degrees to easy, the snow conditions are terrifying: Boilerplate crust defies the skis' edges, and if you catch an edge on an embedded pebble, there's no rope to stop your fall. The helicopter shots and helmet cams capture the grandeur and the danger of the descent. But what's fatal for the movie, unfortunately, are re-enactments of a 2002 accident that director Gerald Salmina interpolates with his genuine new footage. It's an insult to skiers both living and dead. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 4 p.m. Thurs., May 27; Everett Performing Arts Center, 8:30 p.m. Mon., May 31.)9:15 p.m., SIFF CinemaThe ReverseSabina is 30 and still unmarried, a fact that greatly distresses both her mother and her grandmother. It's 1952 Warsaw, and they want a competent man to take care of Sabina in these troubled Soviet times. But gawky poetry editor Sabina, her face hidden by huge tortoiseshell glasses, isn't so sure about men. At home in private, she admires her figure in the mirror. In a darkened cinema, she lusts after shirtless soldiers onscreen. (Actress Agata Buzek nails Sabina's shy yearning.) Then romance strikes: Sabina meets dark, mysterious Bronislaw, who saves her from pickpockets, buys her flowers, and kisses her in the rain. Can he be trusted? With its events framed from a post-communist perspective, The Reverse takes a deft, darkly comic view of poisoning, attempted suicide, and inconvenient corpses. (The mood is lightened with finger-snapping jazz.) And Sabina proves herself to be more than a meek old maid. Like everyone in postwar Poland, she does what she must to survive. As she blossoms into a new fierceness, The Reverse becomes a tense and moving portrayal of a country also headed into upheaval. (NR) ERIN K. THOMPSON (Also: 7 p.m. Tues., June 8 and 4:30 p.m. Wed., June 9.)Tuesday, May 257 p.m., EgyptianHidden DiaryWhen pregnant Audrey (Marina Hands) returns from Canada to visit her French hometown, she receives a frosty welcome from her mother, Martine (Catherine Deneuve). Audrey opts to stay at her recently deceased grandfather's house, where she finds the hidden diary of her long-lost grandmother, Louise. Family lore has it that Louise abandoned her husband in the '50s while her kids were young and was never heard from again. Naturally Audrey decides to investigate. Directed by Julie Lopes-Curval, Hidden Diary is very much a woman's film (released in France as Mères et filles, or mothers and daughters). Audrey wants to imagine her grandmother as a brave, liberated woman, doing things that weren't done—taking English lessons, learning photography, riding the bus alone. Quel scandale! Martine sees things differently, saying, "Our mother left because she was heartless, not to be free." Deneuve is marvelous as the cold, testy mother; her scenes with Hands (Lady Chatterley) are visceral and effective. ("No wonder you're alone," Deneuve snaps. "Who could stand you?") By contrast, weird vignettes in which Audrey imagines herself meeting her dead grandmother (Marie-Josée Croze) don't work at all. Feminism? Forget about it. There's a mystery to solve, and Hidden Diary forgoes deeper inquiry to find where the bodies are buried. (NR) ERIN K. THOMPSON (Also: 11 a.m. Sat., June 5; Neptune, 4 p.m. Thurs., June 3.)7 p.m., Harvard ExitAhead of TimeLike any journalist, I'm a sucker for films about journalists, and Ruth Gruber's long career in print would make any writer envious. She started freelancing in 1935, hitching a ride to the Arctic with the Soviets and filing regular reports for The New York Herald-Tribune. A Brooklyn-born prodigy who got her Ph.D. in Nazi Germany, she later worked for both Life and the Roosevelt administration, and also covered the Nuremberg trials and the violent birth of Israel. (Her book Haven, about Holocaust refugees, became a 2001 TV miniseries.) And now, pushing 100, she's alive and lucid when interviewed by director Bob Richman, who skillfully interweaves old stills, home movies, and newsreels to document such an eventful life. She was—and is—plainly a creature of the progressive Jewish left, an advocacy journalist of the sort who fell out of favor during the McCarthyite '50s. But—no matter, no bitterness—she married at 40 and started a family. Today she speaks at synagogues and to young female journalists. "Did you meet Hitler?" one marvels. No, but she heard him speak live at a rally, which today seems just as remarkable. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: SIFF Cinema, 4:30 p.m. Thurs., May 27.)9:30 p.m., Pacific PlaceLike You Know It AllSelfish, socially awkward, and prone to blurting out the wrong thing after too much booze, film director Ku is an unflattering alter ego for Hong Sang-soo (Woman on the Beach). Far from his Seoul comfort zone (where one suspects his trespasses are forgiven too easily), Ku travels first to a rural film festival and next to a film school on a small island. Fancying himself a big fish, eager to be flattered and impress women, he abuses his hosts and shames himself at every turn. Was he once an ass-kisser, too? He's eager to forget those old days—until he meets an old mentor and reverts to acolyte mode. Was he once a loyal friend? "The frog can't remember his tadpole days," Ku muses in voice-over, at least partly aware of his shortcomings—though not willing to correct them. And on both his small-town visits, his mistakes tend to repeat themselves. (The two episodes are parallel, but don't cohere into a movie.) Called "depraved" and "a skirt-chaser," he nearly ruins one happy marriage by doing nothing; yet the results are more comedy than crisis when he beds another bored wife (Go Hyun-jung, from The Actresses, above). "Promise me you won't make a film about me," she asks. Fat chance. (NR) BRIAN MILLER (Also: 6:30 p.m. Wed., May 26 and 3:30 p.m. Fri., May 28.)

 
comments powered by Disqus