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• Date Movie - Nowhere in the formula "Comedy = Tragedy + Time" does "Cruelty" figure in, something that this caca-palooza -- "from 2 of the 6 writers of Scary Movie" -- sets out to correct from the very first scene. When they introduce us to morbidly obese Julia Jones (Alyson Hannigan), it is with ridicule as they paint her as a hideous beast that makes men vomit and turn gay. Of course, when we remember that 2 of the 6 writers of Scary Movie were Wayans Brothers, whose stock in trade is that kind of cruelty, it makes sense (even if these are another two writers.)
A parody of romantic comedies like Bridget Jones's Diary, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Hitch, this lame spoof goes for the easy laugh almost every time, beating to death with a golf club every gag with the subtlety of, well ... someone who beats someone else to death with a golf club. The "13" in the movie's "PG-13" rating would seem to be either a limit for either I.Q. or emotional age, as the movie's show pieces are either juvenile blue bits or have something to do with either poop, pee, puke or pus (the dreaded "4 P's"). Putting gifted comic actors like Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge in this stinky mess makes them both stinky by association, though as time goes by, the whole lot of them will only be guilty of contributing to a vast background of white noise that we will have learned to filter out when we grow up. Presently #64 on the IMDB's Bottom 100 of all time.
• Fateless - Evoking not so much Steven Spielberg's Holocaust drama Schindler's List as his Empire Of The Sun, renowned cinematographer Lajos Koltai makes an impressive debut with his lyrical adaptation of Nobel-winning author Imre Kertész's harrowing tale of survival. 14-year-old Hungarian boy Geörgy (newcomer Marcell Nagy) finds himself in a series of Nazi concentration camps in the waning days of World War II, and it is through his eyes that Koltai and Kertész, who adapted his own novel, parse these horrors. As lush and epic as Polanski's The Pianist -- only without as coherent a character arc -- their visually remarkable film is loaded with telling little moments which are presented as very effective staccato vignettes. Look for a cameo by bullied Bond-to-be Daniel Craig as an American soldier.
• Freedomland - A book is not a movie, but even if one has not read Richard Price's racially charged novel about a missing child in a poor housing development, it is easy to tell by watching the filmed version of his screenplay that perhaps he excised one too many things in the translation. However, powerful turns by Samuel L. Jackson as the investigating cop and especially Julianne Moore as the former junkie mother make it worth a look. Moore manages to deliver not one but three soul-slamming scenes, something that Jackson, or Edie Falco, despite the strength of her slow-burn supporting role, cannot come close to matching.
• Oh! Calcutta! - It was a musical that debuted in 1969 and ran in one form or another for over 25 years. The likes of Sam Shepard, Samuel Beckett and John Lennon helped put it together. And there were boobies. This honest look at what The Sexual Revolution had become may have had impact at the time it was scandalizing stages, but now, it is little more than a quaint time capsule. The skits and songs range from mildly funny to downright silly -- at least by modern standards -- and none of them are particularly memorable (think Laugh-In with screwing). The version shown here, released theatrically (branded with the now-defunct "X" rating) in 1972, was shot for Dutch TV, and despite an apology up front, the quality is pretty poor. In the end, the idea of this play trumps its actual execution, and for anyone who saw it on the stage, it's best to leave the experience a memory and skip the disc.
• Touch The Sound - Thankfully, director Thomas Riedelsheimer, who created the lovely, intimate portrait of artist Andy Goldsworthy in 2001's Rivers And Tides, does not subscribe to the Myth Of The Superpowered Handicapped Person. Said falsehood grants a person who has lost some basic sense with remaining senses that are heightened beyond granted levels. It is a supposition nearly as offensive as "all Asians are trained in some kind of martial art/untrained behind the wheel" or "all American Indians speak with all the colors of the wind/drink with them". Instead, Riedelsheimer lets nearly-deaf musician Evelyn Glennie do the talking through her words and with greatest effect, her music. The Scottish firecracker favors percussion instruments (for the obvious reasons), the playing of which allows her a full range of expression through movement. The music, by Glennie and Fred Frith, ranges from bucket-banging amusement to full-soul hugs, with an ethereally glorious piece performed in an abandoned warehouse about 2/3 of the way in moving beyond tears. We end up perceiving the world through her, a feat difficult enough in fiction and exponentially more problematic when trying to make real people interesting.
• Winter Passing - Dig slightly deeper than the obvious, and it is not that difficult to see the many parallels between the famed, hermetic writer played by Ed Harris in playwright Adam Rapp's moody drama and the real-life of enigmatic god-to-the-brooding J.D. Salinger. Harris plays the fictional Don Holdin; Salinger's protag in Catcher In The Rye is the cantankerous teen Holden Caulfield. Rapp cast Zooey Deschanel as Harris's estranged daughter ("I've had to buy every book he's written."); the adorable, pixie-like Elf star was named after a character in Salinger's overshadowed 1961 gem, Franny and Zooey. Deschanel plays a desperate New York actor offered $100,000 by a publisher for some family letters; Salinger battled critic Ian Hamilton over letters he published in his 1988 book, In Search Of J.D. Salinger (and Salinger's son, Matt, is an actor). And so on.
Even though Rapp seems overly fixated in paying tribute to Holdin's/Salinger's genius -- sometimes sacrificing a natural path to his riddle's answer -- the faintly skewed package is appealing enough. However, despite the charms and skills of the cast, which also includes Stoned siren Amelia Warner and a delightfully non-hammy Will Ferrell, they pale beside Harris's manic scribe. The Oscar-jilted Renaissance man gives off such a focused energy that everyone else seems to be working too hard to be not dwarfed by him, rather than developing their own rounded characters. What is in perfect balance in Rapp's somewhat layered tale, cast in the mold of Gus Van Sant's Finding Forrester, is the irony of the tale in which a house so steeped in words is so flummoxed when it comes to finding the right ones, and that is a selling point that even Holden Caulfield could goddam appreciate.
• Winter Soldier - Largely unseen since its quiet debut in 1972 is this unforgettable document of the seemingly more-than-isolated atrocities committed by American troops during the Vietnam Conflict. Roughly 100 veterans, including a young returning soldier named John Kerry, assembled in 1971 in a Detroit Howard Johnson's to attest to their knowledge and involvement in these ghastly war crimes in what was known as The Winter Soldier Investigation. This collective of anonymous filmmakers captures not only the horror of the events themselves, but also the timbre of the room as they imparted their tales of unspeakable cruelty.