United 93

To the credit of British writer-director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday), this taut, partly speculative account of the 9/11 flight that crashed in a Pennsylvania field has practically none of the exploitative melodrama one would expect from a major studio release. The film cuts between the delayed Newark-to-San Francisco flight, a military air-defense facility, and air-traffic-control centers in Boston and New York (with some of the real-life participants playing themselves), then switches to real time once the plane takes off. Greengrass takes pains to keep events believable and relatively unrhetorical, rejecting entertainment for the sake of sober reflection, though one has to ask how edifying this is apart from its reduction of the standard myths. (One myth it perpetuates is that the passengers succeeded in storming the cockpit before the plane crashed.) R, 111 min. (JR)

Published on 28 Apr 2006 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Stick It

Jessica Bendinger, author of the cheerleader comedy Bring It On, wrote and directed this inspirational Disney tale about a 17-year-old with attitude (Missy Peregrym) who has a brush with the law and gets sent to an exclusive gymnastics academy for girls. The always capable Jeff Bridges plays her tough-love coach, and by the end her diffident alienation has given way to group spirit and achievement. Despite the familiar story arc and MTV visuals, Bendinger puts this across with a certain amount of pizzazz, and the competitive gymnastics are often spectacular. Rap and black slang abound, though the movie doesn’t have a single black character. PG-13, 105 min. (JR)

Published on 28 Apr 2006 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Place Vendome

This 1999 feature by former actress Nicole Garcia is striking above all because of its lead performanceCatherine Deneuve as the widow of a big-time jeweler, a former alcoholic whose life suddenly springs back to action when she discovers seven diamonds squirreled away by her late husband. What transpires after that may have some of the trappings of an exotic thriller, but it’s basically a character study, and Deneuve and her fellow actorsin particular Emmanuelle Seigner and Jean-Pierre Bacri (Same Old Song)shine in these circumstances. This is the first film in the Film Center’s European Union film festival, a welcome event that over the next couple of weeks brings about two dozen new European features to town. (JR)

Published on 28 Apr 2006 in Featured Texts, by admin

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When Do We Eat?

This 2005 farce about a hellish Passover seder panders to middle-class Jews as gleefully as Tyler Perry’s movies pander to middle-class African-Americans, though there’s less religiosity and a greater degree of self-hatred in the vulgar stereotypes. The dysfunctional family includes a father (Michael Lerner) who manufactures Christmas tree ornaments, a Hasidic son, a lesbian daughter, another daughter who makes a living as a sexual surrogate, and a druggy son who slips dad some ecstasy (his psychedelic trip is accompanied on the sound track by Jewish folk tunes). Salvador Litvak directed a script he cowrote with Nina Davidovich; among the old pros gamely attempting to navigate the strident humor are Mili Avital, Jack Klugman, and Lesley Ann Warren. R, 93 min. (JR)

Published on 21 Apr 2006 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Samad Film Festival

Underground, experimental, and in some cases banned videos from Iran. Reviewing Mohammad Shirvani’s Navel (2004, 83 min.), Joshua Katzman wrote, Five Iranians share a cramped Tehran apartment in this low-budget video drama, shot mostly after dark with night vision that renders the characters as ghostly apparitions with glowing eyes. . . . Shirvani keeps the narrative to a bare minimum, allowing the characters to reveal themselves as their daily routines are recorded, usually by the middle-aged Mani. Oldest of the five and owner of the apartment, he displays an aggressive if affable sense of entitlement as he tracks his cohorts: an expatriate woman visiting from New York, an Iranian Turk who was once an Islamic cleric, a divorced father mostly seen visiting with his young son, and a country boy completing his military duty. No less transgressive are Ehsan Fouladi’s Gasoline (2004, 24 min.) and Mahdi Zarringhalami’s Shiny Muddy Beast (2006, 10 min.): in the former a woman kills and disfigures her boyfriend while the camera periodically turns upside down; the latter features a kind of spastic choreography between the camera-wielding lead actress and the camera filming her. All three are in Farsi with subtitles. (JR)

Published on 20 Apr 2006 in Featured Texts, by admin

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