In this low-budget 2002 feature by Jacques Thelemaque, a young woman (Diane Gaidry) flees the east coast to escape her boyfriend’s chronic abuse and lands in Los Angeles; given shelter by a sour but protective older woman (Pamela Gordon), she gains some equilibrium while helping out with the woman’s dog-walking business. The plot of this character-driven drama is slender and the digital images rather muddyapparently an impoverished indie feature can look bad and still not be very interestingbut to his credit, Thelemaque sticks to his minimalist turf. And the dogs are great. 99 min. (JR)
Nat King Cole stars in this 1958 biopic about the great southern composer W.C. Handy. A travesty in terms of biography, this is worth seeing only for the impressive lineup of musicians in the cast (Pearl Bailey, Eartha Kitt, Cab Calloway, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald). Alan Reisner directed. 93 min. (JR)
Michel Gondry, known for his music videos (for Bjork and others) and his collaborations with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (directing Human Nature and cowriting and directing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), debuts as a full-fledged writer-director in this charming comedy. Gael Garcia Bernal stars as an obsessive young Mexican illustrator trying to settle down in Paris with his French mother (Miou-Miou) and reach some kind of emotional equilibrium with an equally obsessive neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The story is as much about imagination and innocence as the hero’s unstable life and career, so there are many flights of fancy, some concerning an imaginary TV talk show on which he’s both host and guest. Gondry is a soft surrealist without much of a sociopolitical agenda, closer to Dr. Seuss than Luis Bunuel; the closest movie antecedent for this romantic fantasy may be Richard Lester’s The Knack, and How to Get It (1965). In English and subtitled French and Spanish. R, 105 min. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley, River East 21.
I’ve never entirely bought Robert Rossen’s celebrated 1949 movie adaptation of the Robert Penn Warren novel about a fictionalized Huey Long, but at least it has a coherent shape. This airless, scaled-down version by Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) has a credible lead performance by Sean Penn and a handsome mannerist look that suggests an almost diagrammatic sense of dramatic abstraction. Yet the unfocused story is so bereft of any clear sense of period or location that the political melodrama sometimes seems to be taking place inside a cigar box. With Jude Law (adrift), Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, and Anthony Hopkins. PG-13, 120 min. (JR)
To quote the Argentinean film critic Quintin, the subject of South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, Turning Gate) is the microphysics of relations, the deconstruction of love and sex, and though Hong lacks the usual fashionable cynicism, his work is infused with a bittersweet melancholy. This calmly shaped 2004 feature begins with the reunion of two college chums, a film director just returned from the U.S. and a university art professor, which leads to their looking up an attractive painter (Sung Hyun-ah) with whom they were both involved. The regrets of both men slowly accumulate, and the lack of any melodramatic revelation is more than compensated for by the naturalness of the three leads. In Korean with subtitles. 88 min. (JR)